In less than one year, the world’s countries are expected to flesh out an agreement to address climate change and advert dangerous global warming. UN negotiators will meet for the first time in 2015 in Geneva with the goal to deliver a final negotiating text to form the basis for such a deal. This first session will also be significant because it will take place in the premises of the UN’s human rights council where UN delegates will have to find a solution to protect the world’s most vulnerable citizens from climate change while insuring their human rights.
Against sufficient evidence relating to actions tackling climate change that have caused adverse impacts, including human rights violations, the Cancun Decision established that “Parties should, in all climate change-related actions, fully respect human rights”. To swiftly implement this decision, a group of independent experts of the Human Rights Council of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have reiterated the need for a human rights based approach and have called on Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to recognize the adverse impacts of climate change on human rights, and to adopt urgent and ambitious measures to prevent further harm.
The importance to protect human rights has also been included in Lima’s preamble to the draft negotiating text annexed to the Lima Call for Climate Action, which stresses amongst others that all actions to address climate change and all processes established under this agreement should respect human rights, the right to development and the rights of indigenous peoples.
The challenge for negotiators in Geneva will be to translate this objective into legal language to form an integral part of the future climate treaty. For future climate action to be effective and sustainable, such a human rights based approach will also need to be operationalised when implementing climate mitigation and adaption actions. This is becoming more and more apparent as existing climate mitigation mechanisms under the UNFCCC lack the human rights legal framework and approach in their processes. For example, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) does not have environmental, social and human rights safeguard policies in place. It also lacks monitoring standards and robust public participation policies and has increasingly come under pressure over decisions to register CDM projects despite evidence of human rights abuses.
When agreeing on the final negotiating text at the UN’s Human Rights Council’s premises in Geneva, UNFCCC delegates will need to fully integrate rights protections into the foundations of the new treaty to:
- Recognise the adverse effects of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, and to adopt urgent and ambitious mitigation and adaptation measures to prevent further harm.
- Include language in the 2015 climate agreement that provides that the Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights for all.
- Launch a new UNCCC ‘work programme’ to ensure that human rights are integrated into all aspects of climate actions.