International calls grow for recognizing tie between climate change, human rights

Faith-based and civill groups from around the world are amplifying their call for the UN to more formally recognize the tie between climate change and human rights. A webinar on 26 March convened by the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights, reiterated the need for a new position within the UN: a special rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights.

“We are at a time when impacts of climate change are exacerbated by COVID-19 in the region,” said Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, citing destructive storms, sea-level rise, and displacement.

While Pacific states acknowledge their obligation to safeguard the rights of present and future generations in responding to climate change, frameworks to address this must “recognise the intrinsic connection between human rights and development” and “take into account culture and spirituality,” said Bhagwan.

Sister Jayanti Kirpalani from the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University noted that the UN charter talks about human dignity. “When people are displaced, what happens to their legacy, culture and history? This is a matter of human rights,” Kirpalani said.

Didier George, from the Permanent Mission of Haiti in Geneva, observed growing appreciation of the connections between climate change and human rights, reflected in an increasing number of recommendations in the Human Rights Council.  However, “the states who are making recommendations are mostly small island developing states.” George added, “we need to get out of this echo chamber.”

At the recently concluded 46th session of the Human Rights Council, more than 50 states supported the proposal led by Bangladesh for a mandate for a special rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights.

Yves Lador, of Earth Justice, said that a rapporteur would “guide states in the way they implement climate actions and measures” and “give a bigger voice and bigger capacity for frontline people.”

Aldonna Purba, a youth representative of the Lutheran World Federation, expressed hope that this mandate would “not only be on paper but really something that involves young people, especially in vulnerable areas.”

Beverly Longid from the Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-determination and Liberation said that such a mandate will help “to clearly show this link between climate change and the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights. It is a new platform to bring forth our concerns.”

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