Inclusivity and human rights are pivotal to climate action


Climate change and human rights are inextricably linked. It makes little sense to discuss one without the other.

“Even in the issue of climate change, human toxins of bigotry and prejudice exist,” said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore. Gilmore was part of the discussion during an Expert Meeting on Climate Change and Human Rights. The two-day session, which met recently in Geneva, looked at rights-based climate action in the implementation of the Paris Agreement to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Paris Agreement brings all nations into common cause to undertake ambitious steps to combat climate change. It is the first universal, binding climate agreement to include a strong and explicit commitment to respect and promote human rights in climate action.

“We can see the increased connections that the global community is making between climate change and human rights across a number of processes.” said Mary Robinson, former High Commissioner for human rights and the current President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

Gilmore reminded participants that climate change does not impact everyone equally and that certain communities are far more vulnerable to its effects.

Small island states are particularly hard hit by climate change calamities. Nelly Caleb, the National Coordinator of the Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association of Vanuatu in the Pacific, said that while climate change has negatively impacted persons with disabilities in her country, they are finding their voices and solutions by joining together.

“Things move very slowly when advocating alone.”

The ratification and rules of implementation of the Paris Agreement are developing rapidly and this  is a positive step in the global effort to tackle climate change, Robinson said.

“In this process we must ensure that human rights stand as foundational principles,” she warned.  “We will not be able to bring human rights sensitive approaches in later.  Delegates and parties need to see the linkages now. The window of opportunity is closing fast.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has warned that failure to take strong action right now will take the world further down a path of climate devastation. According to Zeid the time for dialogue has passed and the time for rights-based climate action is upon us.

Last year, the Geneva Pledge was established, as an effort to promote rights-based climate action,.  Pledge countries agreed to meaningful collaboration between their national human rights and climate experts in the pursuit of more effective climate action that benefits all persons, particularly the most vulnerable.

“Pledge signatories stand ready to continue helping to foster a transparent, open and mutual beneficial dialogue,” said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica before the United Nations. “We believe this is a long journey that will have no graduation day but permanent tasks and challenges for which we hope to have better knowledge and preparation as our journey progresses,” she said.

Robinson advocated that ‘consequential compassion’ should guide subsequent climate change actions-- that is, an understanding that empathy for those who are suffering must be linked to effective action to alleviate their suffering.

“Human rights-based action should accompany climate science and impact analysis,” said Gilmore. “The worst aspects of climate change must be measured in human form – to understand impacts on the most excluded, the most vulnerable, and the most affected. It must be non-discriminatory, collaborative, transparent and just.”

20 October 2016

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