Madrid, 9 December 2019
Thank you for attending the launch of this report and for your active interest in climate solutions in Latin America and the Caribbean. My Office is honoured to contribute to this work, including through the report that we are presenting today.
The situation is somber. Climate change constitutes a clear, present and intensifying threat to the full and effective exercise of all human rights including those to life, health, a decent standard of living, non-discrimination, self-determination, and development. And already, we are seeing dramatic impacts of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Deforestation of the Amazon damages the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment for people across the world. But the people who are suffering the worst impact are those who live in and near the Amazon – many of them from indigenous communities already burdened by severe discrimination and other human rights violations.
Coastal zones – where most of the people of the Caribbean live – are suffering a dramatic increase in the number of category 5 hurricanes, due to the increase in the surface temperature of the sea. The Bahamas was hit by yet another devastating hurricane in September – and by 2050, rising sea levels could submerge between 10 and 12 percent of the country's territory. Other island States face similar or even worse prospects.
In the Andes, melting glaciers are already impacting clean water supplies, agriculture and development; the threat of catastrophic flooding looms over entire communities. More than 80 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have inadequate access to clean water and basic sanitation. The prospect of more deprivation will have run-on effects in terms of vector-borne diseases, and other threats to health. .
Moreover, by the 2050s, if current trends continue, the IPCC predicts that about 50 per cent of agricultural land in Latin America and the Caribbean could be affected by desertification or salinization.
These and many other climate impacts will lead to far-reaching economic, social and development challenges. Our report analyses laws and policies designed to address and prevent the worst impacts of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean –particularly on people who are already disadvantaged by inequalities and discrimination.
But these impacts will be felt across all of society. Indeed, they are already being felt. In February, the Pew Research Centre reported that in the three Latin American countries they surveyed – Argentina, Mexico and Brazil - survey respondents cited climate change as the worst threat to their countries and lives, ahead of global economic conditions, terrorism and other factors.
I am convinced that responsible policies by States, and other key stakeholders across the region, can be effective in addressing the human rights challenges of climate change.
Last week I was in Costa Rica, which is taking exemplary action to resolve climate issues. Nearly 100% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, and the Government has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021, with zero net greenhouse gas emissions. The Costa Rican government has been a leading advocate for integrating human rights in environmental action at the Human Rights Council, and in environmental negotiations – including as co-chair of the negotiation process of the Escazú Agreement, and host of the PreCOP and of the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action.
Other countries of the region are also stepping up to take action on climate issues. Our report notes the strong role played by Latin American and Caribbean States in sponsoring and adopting resolutions on environment and climate change at the Human Rights Council. And in many cases, national climate policies, including nationally determined contributions, have already begun to adopt a human rights based approach. But every State needs to take stronger, more systematic action that is grounded in universally accepted human rights.
There must be action to ensure that all affected people can participate in designing and implementing climate solutions. And this includes specific assistance and protection for environmental human rights defenders. Our Office has consistently warned that Latin America is among the most dangerous regions in the world for human rights defenders. Environmental human rights defenders and activists for indigenous and land rights face extreme risks including violence, threats and murder.
It is crucial to ratify and implement the Escazu Agreement, which guarantees the human rights to participation, access to information and access to justice and calls for the protection of environmental defenders.
We need to step up measures to mitigate climate change through more ambitious nationally determined contributions founded in human rights. We need to adapt to climate change by taking measures to protect water and food security. There must be stronger efforts to develop disaster risk reduction and preparedness plans that protect all human rights for those affected by emergencies, including the rights to life, health, education, and food. We also need stronger regulation of and incentives for business, so that our economies and development efforts do not further corrode environmental rights. And we need to eradicate the discrimination which makes so many people – women, indigenous peoples and others – especially vulnerable to harm.
Our report outlines a wealth of human rights laws, policies and recommendations that are relevant to ensuring that action to address climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean places human rights at its core. The critical next step is putting these words into action, before it is too late.