December 11, 2009

Recognising and Protecting Human Rights within the Copenhagen Agreement

Speakers representing small island nations pointed out that the lower the emission reduction targets are, the more protection we are going to need for human rights. The 10 billion USD pledged as assistance is woefully inadequate for the 134 developing countries. The demands made were: 1. higher emission targets; 2. support for adaptation; and 3. rights of people who are going to be displaced by climate change impacts.

It was stated that even in current texts we are not mentioning human rights; we are only pressing for emission targets. It was also pointed out that all island nations are not going to lose all their land due to rising sea levels. In some countries people will lose their coastal lands, their fisheries and inhabitable land, and all the people may migrate to other nations. But some land may still escape submergence. What will be the sovereign rights over their original land for people who have migrated?

The representative from the High Commission of Human Rights said that the Commission is very clear that all decisions taken here should be informed by human right norms and standards. He mentioned that the Commission has also adopted a resolution on human rights implications of climate change. He said that disasters make it difficult for people to enjoy a range of human rights. He felt that the current debate is centered on science of Climate change and less on human well being. He also said that climate change implies obligations not only between nations but also towards individuals.

Ms. Sheela representing the Inuit people said that both climate change and persistent organic pollutants (POPS) threaten food security and cultural survival in the arctic. Speaking about the rate of climate change she said that in the arctic people have to adapt within a single generation. She said that there is need for them to be able to practice an ancient culture that is respectful of the environment. If we focus only on western science, the climate train is going to be derailed. Whatever science predicts, the indigenous people are ground truthers as they are the best source of information for what is happening on the ground. Policy makers should hear their voices about what impacts are seen over the last several years.

We should demand ethical and moral responsibility from our leasers. Negotiating states must recognize human rights. They have obligation to protect human rights violation of affected people. Lastly she demanded inclusion of all people in the decisions.

Mr. Joseph Simel said that indigenous people are excluded from governance and policy making. He further added that mitigation actions may bring more problems for the indigenous people. E.g., growing plantations for credits may undermine human rights of indigenous peoples.
Mr. Martin Wagner said that climate change is definitely a human rights issue. The face of climate change is not only the graphs and tables that indicate GHG increase; it is about the people and ecosystems that are affected. He enumerated the human rights in the context of climate change:
1. Right to Means of Subsistence
Considering the effects of climate change such as droughts, salinisation of water due to rising sea levels, and melting of ice interfering with travel of Inuit sot their hunting grounds – it means that the right to life, physical integrity and security is being undermined by climate change.

2. Right to Water
This is a fundamental right. It is indispensable for life with dignity. It is a prerequisite for realization of other rights. E.g., melting of glaciers is undermining the right to water for the mountain communities.

3. Right to Property and to Use of Traditional Lands
Melting of ice and erosion of land, destruction of houses due to permafrost melting are undermining the right to property.

4. Right to Preservation of Health
This right is violated due to climate change as less food is available or food is less nutritious in nature.

5. Right to be Free from Discrimination
Giving the example of heat waves in Los Angeles it was explained how highest mortality was seen among minority populations. Therefore, in environmental disasters the minorities, the poor or marginalized may be more vulnerable to climate change impacts.

6. Rights of Women
As women depend more on environmental resources their rights are increasingly violated with the climate change.

7. Right to Culture
Particularly for indigenous people who depend on environmental resources for traditional practices. It is hard for them to maintain their culture.

8. The Right to Participate
It was mentioned that even now people do not have access to government decision making. They do not have access to information and remedies when their rights are violated.

What are the implications of the human rights approach for the climate change negotiations?
The approach takes moral elements and makes them legal obligations. It increases the emphasis on mitigation to achieve 1.5 degree temperature increase and 350 ppm of CO2. It reinforces the principle of equity and differential responsibility.


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