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Confronting the climate crisis requires confronting systemic racism, say UN experts

GENEVA (5 October 2020) – People of African descent in all parts of the world face environmental racism, a group of UN experts has told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"Despite our stated commitments to human rights, peoples and communities historically subject to exploitation continue to bear the brunt of pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change," said Dominique Day, who chairs the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

The Working Group on Monday presented a report which provides guidance on how to effectively address environmental injustice, racial disparities, unequal protection and the unique impact of the climate crisis and environmental racism on People of African Descent.

"People of African descent in all parts of the world face environmental racism in the siting of landfills, toxic waste dispensaries, extractive industries, industrial and mining areas, factories and power plants and in other environmentally hazardous activities", said Ms. Day.

According to the Working Group, only a racialized analysis illustrates how climate change is not an isolated crisis, but instead is linked to economic and political frameworks that have systematically disregarded the right to life and other core human rights for people of African descent. Systemic racism and unspoken understandings of racial hierarchy tacitly authorize profit at the expense of certain lives, resources, lands, and futures.

"Climate change is a biproduct of our ongoing economic reliance on extraction, exploitation and accumulation through dispossession," said the experts.

The report examines the unique impact of the climate crisis and environmental racism on people of African descent. The report highlights the voices of peoples and communities of African descent point out failures of protection, including unenforced environmental regulations and lax corporate oversight, that have led to the creation of cancer clusters, high rates of asthma, birth defects and miscarriage, and chronic environment-related illnesses.

It calls on states to fulfil their role to protect and support environmental human rights defenders, including those of African descent. It also calls on states, corporations and individuals to do more to recognise and address racial inequity and racial inequality.

"In order to be effective, efforts to address the climate crisis must take a human-rights approach that centres impacted communities," Day told the Council. "States must include people of African descent in decision-making at all stages, including preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery."


The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts: Ms. Dominique Day (United States of America), current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms Catherine S. Namakula (South Africa), Vice-Chairperson, and Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko (Hungary) and Mr. Sushil Raj (India).

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact: Ms Christina Saunders (+41 22 928 9197 / csaunders@ohchr.org) or write to: africandescent@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jeremy.laurence@un.org)

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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