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WATCH THIS! NGO Newsletter #11: ”Human Rights and the Clean Development Mechanism”

28 Apr 2015

JSchade_profile pictureW.Obergassel profile pictureAt COP 16, held in Cancún in 2010, it was emphasised that ’Parties should, in all climate change related actions, fully respect human rights‘. However, so far no further guidance has been specified. Our research published in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs shows that the lack of safeguards in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) can lead to registration of projects that have severe impacts on human rights and suggests possible ways forward.

In our research article, we first consider the relevance of the international human rights treaties for climate policy and argue that not only the CDM host countries but also international donors, financial institutions, credit buyers and private investors have human rights obligations. States have a responsibility not to undermine the enjoyment of human rights on foreign territory, to prevent third parties from abusing human rights, and to support the fulfilment of human rights through individual and international cooperation. Furthermore, international agreements such as the UNFCCC have to ensure that they do not negatively impact human rights, a responsibility the UNFCCC acknowledged at COP 16 in Cancun. Nonetheless, human rights are not embedded in the CDM rules. Moreover, ensuring a projects’ contribution to sustainable development and adequate stakeholder consultations is left to each host country individually.

Second, we analysed two cases, the Bajo Aguán biogas project in Honduras and the Olkaria IV geothermal power project in Kenya. The Bajo Aguán project was registered despite being at the centre of a violent land conflict with more than 50 killings. The Olkaria project exemplifies that safeguards, here applied due to World Bank involvement, do have a positive impact, but that it is necessary to base them more thoroughly on human rights to ensure adequate participation of and adequate outcomes for affected populations.

International agreements such as the UNFCCC have to ensure that they do not negatively impact human rights, a responsibility the UNFCCC acknowledged at COP 16 in Cancun.

However, influential funders with social safeguard policies are not always involved. It is therefore recommendable to develop mandatory human rights-based safeguards at UNFCCC level. As a first step, states who are parties to human rights treaties should comply with their duty to use their voting power to ensure that UNFCCC mechanisms do not negatively impact human rights. Thus, they should continuously lobby for a human rights-based understanding of sustainable development, which matches its meaning in respective UN declarations on sustainable development.

The UNFCCC should require all projects to undergo a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) with clear procedural requirements for stakeholder consultations, making projects with negative impacts ineligible for registration. There should also be a procedure to de-register projects in cases where human rights violations become apparent only during implementation. Procedural requirements should include access to redress, i.e. complaint mechanisms at international, national and at the operational level. Such reform of CDM registration procedures would require a respective mandate for the Designated Operational Entity (DOE) to assess those additional standards.

If no movement is possible at the UNFCCC level, individual buyer countries or groups of countries, such as the EU, should alternatively introduce their own additional requirements for CDM projects. These should apply to their own purchases and to the use of carbon credits (CERs) in domestic emission trading systems.  The introduction of mandatory human rights safeguards would increase the CDM’s transaction costs, but analysis of voluntary initiatives such as the CDM Gold Standard show that these need not to be prohibitive. In any case, from the viewpoint of human rights there is no excuse to make the most vulnerable groups bear the social costs of mitigation.

The article is available online here

Jeanette SchadeJeannette - Uni Bielefeld
Senior Researcher at Bielefeld University
Research Unit on Transnationalization and Development
The research unit on transnationalization and development is part of the faculty of sociology of Bielefeld University. It undertakes research on migration and social inequality, one of its foci being the environmental change-migration nexus including planned relocation.

Wolfgang ObergasselWolfgang - Wuppertal institute
Project Co-Ordinator at Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy

The Wuppertal Institute undertakes research on and develops models, strategies and instruments for transitions to a sustainable development at local, national and international level.

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