15 Sep 2021
13:30–15:00

Venue: Online | Webex

Organization: Republic of the Marshall Islands

Organized by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, this session presented the findings of the IPCC “AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis” report to the members of the Council in the context of existing and potential future work of the Human Rights Council on climate change, including the potential creation of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights. The session was co-sponsored by the Bahamas, Barbados, Fiji, Guyana, Haiti, Maldives, Nauru, Singapore, and Vanuatu, and organized with the logistical support of the Geneva Environment Network.

Background

With the High Commissioner for Human Rights qualifying climate change as the greatest threat to human rights of our time, advocating for the protection and advancement of human rights is inherently tied to our response to this phenomenon. Since 2008, the Human Rights Council has adopted 11 resolutions pertaining to climate change. Despite the extensive work conducted by the Core Group on Climate Change and Human Rights, civil society organizations and HRC’s special mechanisms, there are no mechanisms at the Council to provide focused and continued work on Climate Change. Marshall Islands’ call in 2019 on behalf of the Climate Vulnerable Forum for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights remains to be delivered.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the core group behind resolution 47/24 adopted earlier this year, the possibility of creating a new special procedure addressing the adverse impact of climate change is now on the agenda of the Council. OP 15 of that resolution gives the impetus needed at the Council to discuss the establishment of the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights, and the leadership it needs responding to the threat climate change represents to Human Rights.

With the IPCC’s 2021 AR6 report of the first group noting that “many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia”, we cannot ignore, any longer, the experts’ warning about the fate of our planet.

Goals & Objectives

This session presented the findings of the IPCC “AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis” report to the members of the Council in the context of existing and potential future work of the Human Rights Council on climate change including the potential creation of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights as a response to this crisis, in line with OP15 of Res.47/L.19 which: “encourages the continued discussions among States and relevant stakeholders on the possible creation of a new special procedure addressing the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights”.

The event was an opportunity for IPCC to present its summary for policymakers, informing of the current state of the climate, the state of knowledge about climate futures and information relevant to regions and sectors. The members of the panel addressed the interlinkages and reflections to address the adverse impact of Climate Change on the full and effective enjoyment of Human Rights.

Members of the Council were given the opportunity to interact with the IPCC expert and other panelists as well as among themselves in order to gather the views across the membership and observers in the context of OP15.

Speakers

By order of intervention

H.E. Mereswalesi FALEMAKA (Moderator)

Ambassador/Permanent Observer, Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum to the UN and other IO in Geneva

Greg FLATO

WGI Vice-Chair, IPCC

H.E. Mohamed NASHEED

Ambassador for Ambition, Climate Vulnerable Forum

H.E. Eamon GILMORE

EU Special Representative for Human Rights

Benjamin SCHACHTER

Environment and Climate Coordinator, OHCHR

Melissa GROENINK

Programme Manager, Natural Justice

Summary

Welcome | H.E. Amb. Mereswalesi Falemaka (moderator)

This side event “Addressing the Adverse Impact of Climate Change on the Full and Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights” will focus on presenting the findings of the “IPCC Report AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”, as well as on the possible future mechanisms to further analyze the interdependence between climate change and human rights.

Following the qualification of the High Commission of Human Rights that “Climate change poses the greatest threat to human rights,” it becomes most urgent to take action towards protecting human rights by fighting against climate change. Thus we take into account the climate urgency faced and recalling operative Paragraph 15 of the Resolution on Climate Change passed during the HRC which encourages us to continue the dialogue.

Presentation of IPCC AR6 WGI Report | Greg Flato, WGI Vice-Chair, IPCC

The presentation is based on the recently released report by the Working Group I of the IPCC. Two more reports will be released next year: the Impacts and Vulnerability to Climate Change by WGII in February 2022, and Mitigation Actions and Socioeconomic Implications of Climate Change in March 2022.

This report is the result of a very rigorous and extensive review process and assessment of over 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications published since the last report in 2013. It summarizes the information and assesses the relative confidence they have in the results. The results are policy-informative, but not prescriptive. 

Recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and unprecedented in thousands of years.

On the time series of global mean surface air temperature covering the last 2,000 years, based on both reconstructed data from various lines of evidence (such as tree ring data and sediment cores) and observed temperature from 1850 to 2020, we can see that the temperature level and the rate of increase observed over the last century far exceeds anything that has been observed over the last 2,000 years.

It is now above the what is deemed the warmest multi-century period over more than 100,000 years, with the last instance estimated to be prior to the last Ice Age.

It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change, making extreme climate events, including heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts, more frequent and severe.

We asked, “What if there had only been natural forcings (such as variations in solar output and variations in volcanic eruptions) applied to the climate system?” The result of experiments on comprehensive simulated global climate models show there is basically no change over this time period.

Whereas, if we add the greenhouse gases, land use change, and other changes that are attributable to human activities we get the brown curve with its shading around it, which matches with the observed temperature changes since 1850.

It is very clear that natural variability natural climate forcers like volcanic and solar changes can in no way explain the observed change in temperature.

Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with further warming.

The change that we see is not just limited to the global mean, but rather many other quantities are affecting change in every region on Earth, and in multiple ways, those changes will continue to increase with further warming. Differences between 1.5°C, 2°C and even 4°C in global mean temperature spell a world of difference to various regions.

Climate extremes caused by warming cause the most impact and damage for highest risk for populations and ecosystems. Different quantities affect different regions differently. For example, changes in precipitation that have lead to many regions with enough data and literature simultaneously experiencing increases in the intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation events leading to severe flooding.

On the other hand, a number of regions are experiencing less average precipitation which leads to more aridity and drier soil making it more difficult for for growing crops.

Unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be beyond reach.

Looking at potential future scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions from 2015 until 2100, we asked, “What would the climate be like under these different pathways of emissions?”

The blue lines are scenarios in which emissions decrease rapidly and reach zero and become even slightly negative for carbon dioxide before the end of the century. There is an intermediate scenario shown in yellow in which mitigation action is not really taken until later in the 20th century 21st century excluding. Then two scenarios shown in the red colors in which mitigations are unsuccessful in reducing emissions but rather emissions continue to grow throughout the 21st century.

One of the ramifications of these different scenarios show the change in global mean surface air temperature. Showing future temperatures under these different scenarios, we can see that only in those two blue scenarios — the ones that involve rapid emission reductions getting to zero before the end of the century — are we able to limit temperature to below two degrees or roughly one and a half degrees.

In all of the other scenarios in which mitigation action is taken more slowly or is unsuccessful, we see temperatures continuing to rise throughout the 21st century and reaching in extreme cases quite high levels. That gives an indication that only by these rapid emission reductions would we be able to achieve stabilization of temperature and meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

There’s no going back from some changes in the climate system.

Global mean sea level change relative to 1900 for those different scenarios and in all cases sea level continues to rise. Even if we stabilize temperature as is the case in the two blue scenarios, sea level continues to rise throughout the the 21st century and increases to levels above half a meter and potentially higher by the end of the century and will continue on.

This is an issue that is particularly important for Small Island States. Even if we stabilize surface temperatures at levels consistent with the Paris Agreement (two blue scenarios) the sea level continues to rise as the deep ocean continues to warm up and come into equilibrium with that warmer surface climate.

In addition, water is continuously added into the ocean through the melting of large ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, as they also slowly come into equilibrium with that new climate. This trend continues even beyond the year 2100, and may be magnified depending on the various emission scenarios, showing the long-term potential of the kind of irreversible nature of the changes we have already contributed to.

However, some changes could be slowed and others could be stopped by limiting warming.

There are other quantities in the climate system that can be slowed or changes that can be stopped by limiting warming.

The September sea ice amount in the Arctic has been decreasing in amount year after year for several decades now. In the future, we see different future scenarios play out: in the blue scenarios, the amount of sea ice is also stabilized alongside surface temperature, albeit at a level that’s much lower historically in the Arctic, whereas in the higher scenarios where temperature continues to rise, we see that the Arctic sea ice amount continues to decline and essentially the Arctic becomes ice free in the summer.

The change in ocean surface pH can also be noticed. In those low scenarios (where we’re not putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which dissolves in the ocean and causes acidification), acidity also stabilizes when temperature stabilizes. But the scenarios in which emissions continue in that case the ocean continues to get more acidified which of course has important consequences for marine life.

To limit global warming, strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases are necessary. This would not only reduce the consequences of climate change but also improve air quality.

There is a very close relationship between the cumulative amount of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere and the global mean temperature obtained in the climate system.

It’s important to note that carbon dioxide lasts persists for a long time in the atmosphere, many centuries, so anything that’s emitted into the atmosphere now, its effect remains for for many hundreds of years. This means that it’s the cumulative total that determines the temperature that we reach.

A figure like this allows one to to ask, “If we want to stabilize temperature at a particular level, 1.5°  or 2°, what is the cumulative total carbon carbon dioxide emissions that could be put into the atmosphere, that would lead to a particular temperature?” Which means that no more than that amount could be emitted or else we would exceed that temperature target. And that allows for the calculation of the carbon budget. This becomes an important scientific element to international climate policy discussion.

H.E. Mohamed Nasheed, Ambassador for Ambition, Climate Vulnerable Forum

I am here as Ambassador of the Climate Vulnerable Forum chaired by H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The forum includes 48 countries now, while we started in 2009 with a few countries.

We have a Manifesto and part of it related to the Council and this session. As we all know, climate change is a human rights issue. How could it not be?

After all, as the recent IPCC report makes clear, climate change is already upon us. And many of the weather disasters that we see — from floods, to wildfires, to coral bleaching, to typhoons — have been made much worse by climate change.

A more extreme and unpredictable climate is directly threatening a number of fundamental rights: … the right to life, the right to food, the right to a livelihood, the right to development, to name a few.

I believe that the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change is of utmost importance. I want to specifically focus on this issue in my remarks. When you think about it, it is amazing that this position has not already been created. The need for it is so obvious. I think you may be aware or will hear it today.

We have an important vote coming up, on whether to establish this Rapporteur. I really hope that all countries vote in favour. I would be very disappointed to see anyone abstain, or vote against.

The Human Rights Council is designed to protect human rights. And climate change is the biggest threat to human rights this century. I think the Council would lose a lot of respect and credibility if it decides to ignore climate change, and refuses to create the position of a Rapporteur.

We need to protect our rights. In this regard, I am heartened that the European Union recently announced it would support the creation of a Special Rapporteur. This is a very welcome move. Europe is the cradle of human rights, so it is good that they have properly aligned themselves on this issue.

Coming from a climate vulnerable country, I believe the special Rapporteur could play an extremely useful role.

Every time there is a big weather related disaster, perhaps a typhoon, a flood, or a terrible breaching event,
the Rapporteur could visit that country and issue a statement from the United Nations,which if appropriate
could assign blame for the disaster. And some of that blame would surely go to the countries that have pumped the sky full of poisonous gases, and continue to do so even when they know they are returning the planet.

Countries might be to blame for a climate disaster. For example, if they have not aligned their emission
targets to 1.5 degrees. These are the countries responsible and culpable for the climate induced tragedies
happening elsewhere on the planet. And perhaps, the countries who keep promising money to the poor,
vulnerable countries for adaptation, and yet that money never seems to come, also share some of the blame.
Especially if the damage caused by a weather event is made much worse because the vulnerable country was unable to protect itself.

Of course assigning blame is a tricky thing. Perhaps the giant flood was really caused by an authoritarian government cutting down all the forests, or perhaps the style and surge was made worse because a regime removed all the mangrove forests and turned them into grown farms, or perhaps because the regime cut up a marshland and had an airstrip on it, or perhaps the government poured concrete all over the coral reefs leaving them more vulnerable to rising temperatures.

The special Rapporteur would need to get to the bottom of this. They would need to have a look at the situation
and see which factors caused the disaster. But i don’t think this sort of analysis would be impossible. Special Rapporteurs do this sort of analysis all the time.

As some of you may know, as someone who talks a lot about climate change, I also talk a lot about the need for human rights and democracy. This has often gotten me into a lot of trouble in the Maldives where i spent most of my 20s and 30s in and out of jail.

In the darkness of our dictatorship in the voltage which lasted 30 years, the UN often spent sent a Special
Rapporteur, to have a look at what was going on, to assess the situation, and to assign blame. If I have been accused of terrorism for example, and sent to prison, the UN would come and have a look. And the special Rapporteur would see if I was really a terrorist, or if in fact, I had simply called for democratic reform.

The reports the UN Special Rapporteur issued were extremely important and helpful. They were the view
of the respected UN office. When in the democracy movement whose rights were being trampled on,
use these reports as a way to pressure the regime to relent, and the lack of freedom and democracy.

I see a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change doing similar things. They would protect human rights from abuse, protect the most vulnerable,  who would gain a new advocate. Human rights abuse caused by the weather. They could assign blame, and their reports could be useful tools that people can use to pressure governments to mend their ways. Perhaps the government needs to spend their adaptation money in a better way. Perhaps another government needs to reduce its emissions.

If climate change is one of the biggest threats to human rights, climate action therefore must be one of the biggest opportunities to safeguard these rights. So let’s see the creation of a Special Rapporteur as a positive thing. Something that could help to unleash a new wave of climate change.

Action on adaptation, and action on emission, and ultimately action on human rights.

Who in their right mind would not want to support this.

H.E. Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

On behalf of the European Union, I want to thank the Marshall Islands for organizing this very timely event, I want to thank you for the invitation to join this very distinguished panel. Today’s discussion is an important contribution the work which is being done by the Human Rights Council to raise international awareness and understanding of the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.

There is no doubt that we are in the middle of an unprecedented environmental crisis with climate change affecting every region across the globe. In the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, climate change represents an existential threat to humanity. In Europe, we have witnessed devastating floods in several countries including Belgium and Germany. Wild fires have ravaged the Mediterranean region in Greece, Italy and elsewhere and outside of Europe. Madagascar is suffering one of his worst droughts in 40 years earlier this year flash floods; landslides devastated Indonesia and Timor-Leste; and wildfires scorched Algeria, and the list goes on.

Last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change which has just been summarized by Dr. Flato, was unequivocal in its assertion that human influence has warmed the atmosphere ocean and land with widespread changes occurring as a result. This has serious implications for human rights.

Climate change and environmental degradation have and will continue to have an adverse impact on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights such as the right to life, to health, to safe drinking water and sanitation, to food, to adequate housing, and to standards of living if it is not addressed. The European Union recognizes this and has made climate change a central element in its external policy. This includes through climate diplomacy by working with our global partners at bilateral level and multilateral level, including the United Nations and its Framework Convention on Climate Change, and also through climate finance by providing financial support for climate action in developing countries.

In fact, 30 percent of the total expenditure from the monthly annual financial framework between 2021 and 2027, and next generation EU will target climate-related projects while a quarter of EU development assistance funds will be set aside to step up efforts on climate change. The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 to 2024, which was unanimously adopted by our 27 member states at the end of last year, firmly establishes the EU’s commitment to addressing the impact of environmental degradation and climate change on human rights.

We know that environmental challenges exacerbate existing inequalities and discrimination within and between nations and generations, so one of the priority actions of the new action plan is to support measures to address the risk of environmental degradation biodiversity loss and water scarcity.

On the exercise of human rights among other things, the EU will strengthen the link between human rights and the environment and raise awareness of the human rights impact of environmental degradation and climate change. We will support the role of public authorities in adopting and ensuring compliance with environmental regulations aimed at securing a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment and we will facilitate universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The impact of climate change on human rights has, of course, a knock-on effect on the people who work on human rights. I want to talk about environmental human rights defenders in particular because in 2020, 331 human rights defenders that we know of were killed, with 69 percent of those killed were working on land indigenous and environmental rights. These are the people who are working on the ground on the front line where the damage is being done to both the environment and to human rights.

Human rights defenders and women human rights defenders in particular are at the heart of that inseparable relationship between the protection of the planet and the protection of human rights. There is already a growing backlash against women’s rights in the world all over, as well as increased violence against women human rights defenders. They are especially at risk of sexual and gender-based violence. They suffer threats and are stigmatized, not just because they protect and defend the rights of others, but because they are women protecting and defending the rights of others. We have seen that this is further compounded when women defend environmental land or indigenous people’s rights. According to reports, defenders working on these rights are nearly three times more likely to be assaulted than other human rights defenders.

The European Enion has committed through the EU action plan on human rights and democracy and through the EU gender action plan, to a range of specific measures to support and protect human rights defenders and in particular women defenders and environmental defenders. Our delegation and our member states embassies all over the world are active on a daily basis to protect human rights defenders through prison visits trial monitoring and meetings with defenders at risks among many other actions since its launch in 2015.

Our main financial instrument supporting human rights defenders which is called protectdefenders.eu has supported almost 12,000 land and environmental rights and indigenous rights defenders. These are now the main groups which is supported by this mechanism and more than half of these are women. Why is this important? It is because human rights defenders are drivers of change who sound warnings before violations of abuse of human rights actually occur, and women human rights defenders and environmental human rights defenders are critical for ensuring justice peace and equality

In conclusion, I want to respond to the comments just made by President Nasheed and I want to recall that during the 47th session of this Council in June the European Union stated, and I quote, that integrating human rights into our actions implies higher levels of ambition from all of us.

It is only by doing so that we’ll be able to fulfill our responsibilities towards our planet present and future generations, to fulfill our responsibilities towards the planet and towards present and future generation. This means that it is now appropriate and timely to support calls for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human rights.

I want to thank President Nasheed’s earlier acknowledgement of the EU’s support for this proposal.

There is no alternative to stepping up our level of ambition because failure is not an option.

Benjamin Schachter, Environment and Climate Coordinator, OHCHR

Since 2008, the Human Rights Council has issued a total of 11 resolutions focused solely on climate change and numerous resolutions addressing related issues including human rights and the environment.

The work of the Council on climate change, including the mandated activities carried out by OHCHR, make clear that the adverse effects of climate change have a range of implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life, food, health, housing, self-determination, water and sanitation, work and development.

The reality of climate change and its current impacts are undeniable. The projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared moments earlier, represent the best available science and demonstrate things will only get worse if we do not change our behavior now.

And worse is not acceptable for people or for the planet. Consider just a few figures:

  • Extreme weather events contributed to internal displacement of an estimated 28 million people in 2018.
  • Climate change could push 100 million more people into poverty by 2030.
  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths each year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress alone.

These negative impacts of climate change are disproportionately borne by persons and communities already in disadvantageous situations owing to geography, poverty, gender, age, disability, cultural or ethnic background, among others. There are people suffering and even dying right now because of humanity’s collective failure to prevent climate change.

In recent years, the Council has explored this issue through a series of resolutions, panel discussions and mandated reports addressing climate change and its impacts on the right to health, the rights of the child, the rights of migrants, the rights of women and girls, the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of older persons. The most recent climate change resolution 47/24 focuses on climate change and its impacts on the rights of persons in vulnerable situations.

At the opening of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council earlier this week, the High Commissioner for Human Rights dedicated her update to the Council to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and nature loss. She emphasized that “a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is the foundation of human life” and environmental threats “constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era.”

The resolutions and discussions of the Council, the work of its special procedures mechanisms (many of whom have issued dedicated thematic reports on climate change), of the Universal Periodic Review and of the human rights treaty bodies demonstrate that human rights are impacted by climate change and also part of the solution.

Every session of the Council represents a critical opportunity for States to more effectively address the human rights impacts of environmental harms, including climate change. This 48th session, with the stage set by the High Commissioner’s remarks earlier this week, is no different. Like at each of the sessions before it, however, the clock is inching ever closer toward midnight, the need for more ambitious action is ever more urgent, the challenges before us more certain.

Fortunately, the work of and mandated by the Council to date offers a foundation for articulating and implementing a human rights-based approach to environmental action that can be strengthened.

According to the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment could serve as a catalyst for stronger environmental laws and their improved implementation and enforcement; increased levels of public participation in environmental decision-making; and increased access to information and access to justice – leading to better outcomes for people and planet.

This and other steps the Council and its mechanisms could take to address the triple planetary crisis could make an important difference for people whose lives and rights are most at-risk from climate change and other environmental harms.

At the direction of the Council, OHCHR has worked extensively to develop guidance for rights-based climate action. As a starting point, principles and standards derived from international human rights law, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core universal human rights treaties, should guide climate action which should be fair, follow the science, respect the rights of future generations, and respond to the demands of people everywhere for action to save their livelihoods, communities and homes.

A human rights based approach based on the principles of equity, accountability, inclusiveness, transparency, equality and non-discrimination is both a legal and moral imperative and a practical necessity for effective climate action.

Such an approach should include, inter alia:

  1. Enhanced climate ambition ensuring mitigation action that is consistent with the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights; the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C; and the best available science.
  2. Participatory and gender-responsive mitigation and adaptation focused on protecting and fulfilling the rights of all persons, particularly those most endangered by the negative impacts of climate change.
  3. Mobilization of adequate means of implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.
  4. Operationalization of the human rights commitments in the Preamble to the Paris Agreement, for example, by advocating for guidelines for international cooperation mechanisms under Article 6 of the Agreement that ensure meaningful and informed participation of rights-holders, adequate environmental and social safeguards, and independent redress mechanisms.
  5. The meaningful and informed participation of all people in environmental decision-making and accountability for environmental harms.
  6. Protection of environmental human rights defenders.
  7. Effective regulatory measures to protect against human rights harms caused by greenhouse gas emissions and hold businesses accountable for their climate impacts.

The coming years will affect the long-term survivability of our planet for all life as we know it.

Today, across the world, key environmental actions and negotiations are being delayed by the COVID-19 crisis. In some cases, environmental protections are even being rolled back.

Meanwhile, attacks against environmental human rights defenders continue to occur with impunity. According to Global Witness, 2020 was the worst year on record, with more than 4 environmental defenders killed on average each week.

Failing to protect the environment and those who defend it is not an option.

We can and must do more to recover better from the pandemic and take ambitious human rights based action to guarantee climate justice for all.

Melissa Groenink, Programme Manager, Natural Justice

Thank you very much, Excellency, for this introduction and opportunity to address you all here today. I am an environmental lawyer at a pan-African civil society organization called Natural Justice. It really is an honor to be here today representing civil society in this distinguished company. Thank you also to my fellow fellow panelists for their contributions here today.

During 2020, a number of regional consultations with civil society and indigenous peoples were held regarding this establishment of a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change. More than 150 organizations from across the world joined these consultations from more than 50 states. Natural Justice hosted one of these consultations in Africa. From these consultations it was clear that there is strong support amongst civil society for this initiative, and this is across the globe including those organizations active in environmental climate justice and human rights movements.

The creation of the new Special Rapporteur has been a long-standing request by civil society. This dedicated mandate would enable the Human Rights Council to elevate its work on climate change in a systematic and sustainable way that would protect people from runaway climate change and its unavoidable impacts, and promote respect for human rights and climate responses. The mandate should specifically consider issues relating to equity and promote human rights-based climate action.

The support for the new mandate is echoed by a joint letter from civil society organizations and indigenous peoples from June this year. It was signed by more than 500 organizations and academic institutions. More importantly, there is significant support from organizations working on the ground in Africa. Priorities include the need to address the issues of climate debt and to amplify the voices of women indigenous people and local communities, especially those affected by the adverse impacts of the commercial exploitation of natural resources which is rife in Africa.

Further, there is a strong need to focus on the protection of environmental defenders and some of the panelists have already spoken to the necessity and the many issues surrounding environmental defenders are no different in Africa. Organizations have called for cooperation with regional institutions in Africa giving given the continent’s unique situation in terms of climate change.

Globally civil societies emphasize the importance of addressing the inadequate measures to combat climate change that have furthered inequalities, including the displacement criminalization and marginalization of communities most affected by climate change, such as indigenous peoples and rural communities.

The urgency of the need to take action to address climate change cannot be understated the evidence for which has been clearly set out by Mr. Flato in his earlier presentation. This cannot be emphasized enough.

New and rapid climate action is needed, and it is needed now. Addressing the climate crisis is indeed a human rights imperative.

Civil society organizations therefore welcome the strong leadership of the martial islands and other countries to establish a new special aperture on human rights and climate change.

Open Discussion

With interventions from representatives of Marshall Island, Bahamas, Haiti, Spain, Poland, United States, Center for International Environmental Law, United Kingdom, Franciscans International, Ireland, and Uruguay.

Marshall Island | H.E. Amb. Doreen De Brum, Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Excellencies, colleagues, friends, I would like to thank the panelists for highlighting so poignantly the existing existential threat that the climate change emergency is to mankind.

Bearing in mind the urgency of climate change such as expounded by the IPCC, the Marshall Islands has been pleading for the creation of a special rapporteur on climate change and human rights for two years now, ever since the 2019 COP25 in Madrid. Together with 14 SIDS and low-lying countries, the Marshall Islands reiterated the call at the human rights council with its joint statement at the June session in 2020.

In October 2020, the Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers endorsed the establishment of the mandate in their Kainaki II declaration for urgent climate change action.

Responding positively to the call and taking over the presidency of the CVF, Bangladesh code the call for the creation of the mandate on behalf of a group of over 55 states at the 46th session of the council.

With the momentum around climate action growing and resolution 47/24 on climate change adopted earlier this year, a core group composed of the Bahamas, the European Union, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay, Sudan and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, will be tabling a resolution focused on the technical delivery of the establishment of the mandate of a special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

With the creation of this mandate, the core group aims to respond to the repeated calls made by countries, particularly vulnerable to the threat of climate change, including six countries which are at the forefront of the climate existential crisis, and civil society which has been calling for its creation for close to 10 years now. The purpose of the mandate can be summarized in three goals:

  1. Identifying, studying, and raising awareness on the adverse impacts of climate change on the full enjoyment of all human rights.
  2. Provide guidance to states related to the adoption of human rights-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation policies.
  3. working closely with states to support national efforts, while being attentive to country specific challenges.

The core group has been doing its utmost to ensure that a duplication and overlap with other mandate holders is avoided and is committed to reaching maximum consensus by engaging with all states and all stakeholders during informal consultations and bilaterals.

The draft resolution will be shared tomorrow, with the view to hold our informal starting this Friday 17 September from 3 p.m to 4.30 p.m, and the second one on the Wednesday 22 September from 4.30 to 6 p.m, and the third one on the Friday 24 September from 9.00 am to 10.30 am.

We are looking forward to engaging with all of you and working together on an issue that is a common challenge to mankind. Kommol tata, I thank you very much.

Bahamas | H.E. Amb. Keva Bain, Permanent Representative of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

The Bahamas welcomes the convening of the discussion and thanks the Marshall Islands for its leadership and Ambassador De Brum and her team for convening and organizing the side event of which the Bahamas is pleased to co-sponsor. Commissioner Bachelet set the tone at the opening of this HRC session by making a clarion call by action on climate change by the Council, when she referred to environmental threats as the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era. We thank the IPCC for its work including its recent report which underscores once again that action on climate change is not only needed but needed now. Part of the Human Rights Council’s mandate is to respond property to human rights emergencies and today’s event therefore could not be more timely.

As we are at the crossroads of an opportunity to ensure that the Council demonstrates its ability to rise to the occasion to continue fulfilling its important mandate, it is for this reason that the Bahamas is pleased to be a member of the core group of countries supporting the call for a Special Rapporteur to address the issue of climate change the topic is not only a relevant one for the Bahamas but an urgent one which merits action by the international community.

The Bahamas is under threat from sea level rise and has also seen how a single hurricane can grow in a matter of hours the development gains that we have made over the decades. For me personally, every time I hear a report of a country experiencing a hurricane it brings back memories of hurricanes that I have experienced and also the devastation and the sense of looseness and helplessness that we as a country experienced when we heard the reports coming from the islands that were impacted by the category 5 Hurricane Dorian. So we understand firsthand that climate change has the potential to threaten the full enjoyment of rights in all spheres: from the rights to health, life, a healthy environment, education, and the right to development.

When history speaks of us, let it not be said that the Council did too little or that we did it too late.

I have one question our panelists this afternoon: What would you consider to be the most important added value that a dedicated Special procedures mandate of the human rights council on climate change? Thank you.

H.E. Amb. Mohamed Nasheed

Let’s say there was a climate-related disaster in Bahamas, an extreme weather created floods or a typhoon that destroyed everything. The special Rapporteur would visit the Bahamas to make an assessment on why this has happened, who is hurt by it. It might very well be due to carbon emissions, the lack of adaptation funding. It also can be because of unplanned infrastructure building and development methods — unplanned meaning destruction of nature — and therefore the impact on the land and the people was strong. It might very well also be because the country itself did not spend their adaptation money wisely.

We feel that because of the frequent disasters now happening, it is important that the UN steps in and gives an assessment of what’s going on… But UN is not doing this, that’s not their mandate.

The Rapporteur might very well say that the country has to spend a lot of money on debt repayment, and with that the money on adaptation is limited and therefore they cannot defend themselves.

It’s this analysis that I think is now necessary and we can use that to build better and also to ask people to amend their ways.

H.E. Eamon Gilmore

I think the impact is twofold. First of all, it is keeping the link between climate change and human rights firmly on the agenda through reports through country visits through reports to the HRC itself.

Secondly, I think it is to make it clear that that link is not something general. It translates the link from the general to the particular and that keeps at the forefront of our minds and of the minds of policy makers that climate change is not just something that is happening vaguely out there in the atmosphere. It is important to know that it is happening to people and that it is happening in the here and now.

I think that the Special Rapporteur would play a very big role in bringing that to life and to light through the work that he or she will do.

Benjamin Schachter

Let me start by saying whether or not to establish such a mechanism is a decision for for member states and the Council itself. The power or value added of that potential mandate would rely a lot in the actual text establishing the mandate, the mandate holder, the selection of a mandate holder who who can carry out the work effectively, and of course the office supporting that mandate holder.

I can say with confidence that the UN Human Rights office will be there to support any action increased action on human rights and climate change, and I am really looking forward to guidance from the Council about how we can take more effective action on climate change.

I’ll just say a few words about what the tools available to a mandate holder are because that again also is part of the added value of a mandate. Those tools include country visits, thematic reports, providing direct technical assistance to governments and others who request it, engaging in advocacy and effective communications around the issue, and also receiving communications from persons affected by climate change, and starting dialogues between states and people affected are all some of the things that a new mandate holder could do.

Haiti | Ann-Kathryn Lassegue, Minister-Counsellor

The Haitian delegation thanks the Marshall Islands and the Geneva Environment Network for organizing the side event that Haiti has the pleasure to be a co-sponsor.

On behalf of the permanent mission of Haiti, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone especially the core group for their hard work seeking Resolution 47/19 on Human Rights and Climate Change that was adopted during the 47th session. According to our delegation, it is not only essential to keep climate change on the Council agenda but also to keep raising public awareness about climate changes adverse effect on human rights.

We welcome the work of the IPCC especially the last report in which the worst prediction for the environment are presented. It is imperative that everyone put in greater effort to mitigate environmental risk on the of the planet. Our delegation will pay attention on how to implement the resolution within its internal system and how it is contributing to the report of the High Commissioner that will be presented on the fifth session.

As a small island, Haiti is highly affected by the impact of the climate change and despite the challenges the country faces right now, our delegation will work with all its seeds partners and the international community to overcome the challenges of climate changes.

Spain | H.E. Amb. Carlos Dominguez, Deputy Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

As panelists have described, millions of people around the world are already suffering the adverse effects of climate change, such as natural disasters and the exacerbation of economic inequalities. The climate crisis is also a human rights crisis. The high commissioner rightly pointed it out during her statement at the session of the HRC that climate change is the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era. Rights such as the right to life, to health, to food, to water and sanitation, are threatened by the effects of climate change and its impacts are felt most acutely by those in vulnerable situations such as women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and small island developing countries.

Many voices have been urging the Human Rights Council to take decisive action to promote and protect human rights in the context of climate change and the Marshall Islands has been pleading for the creation of a Special Rapporteur since COP-25 celebrated in Madrid in my country, as well as civil society has done so.

My country is firmly committed to fight climate change we do it nationally throughout the enactment of advanced legislation and within the EU and through our cooperation and development programs assisting our partners in their efforts to mitigate and to adapt to climate change. Therefore my country firmly supports the creation of a special mandate on climate change and human rights and rallies its forces.

As an EU member state within the core group, we must address the fight against climate change aiming for the highest consensus around the establishment of the special mandate and put the individual’s rights at the center of our efforts.

We owe it not only to the present but also to the future generations.

Poland | H.E. Amb. Zbigniew Czech, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Thank you very much Madam Moderator. Let me also thank Madame Ambassador De Brum and her team for Marshall Island’s mission for organizing this important and timely event. I would like to express my gratitude to all the speakers, to all the panelists for the informative and thought-provoking interventions. These kind of events are necessary for the Council to better grasp different aspects of the nexus between the climate change and human rights. My intervention will be rather of the comment than a question.

It is clear that the climate change poses an unprecedented challenge for the global community. As Dr. Flato stressed in his presentation regardless of where we live the effects of the climate change have already reached us.

Unfortunately more negative effects are still to come and no one is immune to the damage that climate change causes and there is no border that can stop this from spreading. This is a global challenge that requires a global response.

The score scale of negative effects of climate change will depend on whether we manage to act rapidly and resolutely. Climate change has wide reaching consequences for human rights. It is closely related to the right to life, right to health and many other human rights. Destroyed homes, ruined crops, heatwaves that kill, just to name a few of many examples of how the climate change impacts our lives that is why Poland believes that the human rights dimension of the climate change deserves a particular attention of the Human Rights Council.

It is time to act, hence we would like to express its strong our strong support for the creation of a mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights. We hope that a new mandate will be supported by the whole Council and its member states.

United States | Phillip Riblett, Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

We would like to express our appreciation to the Marshall Islands and the other members of the core group for this initiative and to the panelists for participating in today’s event. The United States has long recognized that climate change affects the enjoyment of human rights, and that when states take action to address climate change they should promote and respect their respective human rights obligations. Our ability to co-sponsor the resolution will of course depend on the text, and we will look forward to engaging in informal consultations.

Center for International Environmental Law | Francesca Mingrone, Staff Attorney, Climate & Energy Program

We welcome the leadership of the Marshall Islands, Panama, Paraguay, Fiji, Sudan, Bahamas and you to establish such a new mandate at this session of the Human Rights Council but also the leadership of members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum who have worked to support this proposal.

Over the past years, civil society and indigenous people organizations have called for this establishment for more than 10 years. We are glad to see that meaningful steps are finally being taken. As Ms. Groenink has recalled during the regional consultations we held with over 150 organizations across more than 50 countries over the globe, the message we got was very clear a dedicated Special Rapporteur is needed to further look into the implications of climate change on the enjoyment of fundamental rights, promote equitable and inclusive climate action, provide advice on human rights-based climate action, and give a voice to the most vulnerable communities on the front lines of climate change

A new Special Rapporteur would also be able to provide assistance and technical advice to states in crafting their climate policies, to build bridges across states.

As the latest IPCC report has shown, we must act now. There are no further excuses to delay action. The council must take appropriate action as a matter of urgency, behind the most vulnerable countries to fight against climate change.

We look forward to engaging constructively with states during the informal sessions that have been announced.

United Kingdom | Lucinda Stallard, Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

The UK recognizes the serious and unequivocal threat that climate change poses to our planet. As incoming COP 26 president the UK remains firm that state should fully respect protect and promote human rights in all climate change related actions as recognized by the Paris Agreement.

We are thankful to the Marshall Islands for their work on the creation of the Special Rapporteur on Climate Change. The UK recognizes the importance of further solutionizing the impact of the enjoyment of climate change and human rights.

With this in mind, we look forward to engaging in a fruitful discussion over this session of the home of the Human Rights Council.

Thomson Reuters Foundation | Laurie Goering, Climate editor

I wanted to ask President Nasheed who gives an excellent example of how he sees this special rapporteur being used in practice. I was curious to hear other examples from representatives there of how they would see in practice as being used in their own countries on the ground.

H.E. Ambassador Nasheed

I was using my own experience. As I mentioned I’ve been in prison almost half my entire life and every time I’m taken in there, the UN would send someone have a look at the situation, make a report and we were able to use that report for a little very good benefit.

Similarly, now when there is a disaster the Rapporteur can come, [provide a] country assessment and the report would be very helpful to build better, and also to make good use of money. It would also always be helpful for those countries emitting too much carbon to understand the damage that they are doing to others.

Franciscans International | Sandra Epal-Ratjen, International Advocacy Director and Deputy Executive Director

Thank you so much excellency for giving us the floor, and also really our deep appreciation to all states who have expressed their support for an initiative that Franciscans International has been advocating for for more than 10 years and so this is important for us. This is really a great moment for us to see that there is support and that we are taking very concrete steps towards the creation eventually of such a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change And Human Rights and this ask from us is really grounded in the reality that our Franciscans partners and other partners on the ground are facing in their communities are also being actively involved in the broader movement of civil society.

You have heard from several colleagues including Ms. Melissa who told about this request and the expectations from civil society. For us and for many civil society colleagues the issue of having a Special Rapporteur is really a matter of legitimacy for the Human Rights Council as was said by a couple of panelists. What it could bring in that a Special Rapporteur will go on country missions to help in a very constructive manner, addressing specific country situations on the ground and helping making sure that human rights are featured into policy making.

While there are some changes that are inevitable and irreversible, there are still things that we can do, and I think that’s also the case for human rights. We know that some people will already be displaced and this is something we cannot avoid, but at least we can make sure that their human rights are as much as possible respected and protected. I think this is really something where the Special Rapporteur will be of a great feature.

Ireland | Eimear McDermott, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

I want to thank the Republic of the Marshall Islands and all of the colleagues for organizing the event today.

I think it’s very timely to have this event particularly as the ambassador noted that momentum is growing for greater attention in action. Just to say that you know small island states have long been the moral authority and voice for climate change globally and it’s no surprise that you’re at the forefront again in driving action alongside your cross-regional partners.

Ireland works very closely with states and other partners on climate change issues in many multilateral fora and we’re happy to do likewise at the Human Rights Council. We welcome the proposal for the Special Rapporteur to establish on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change and we look forward to working with the core group to take this forward in the coming weeks.

Uruguay | Valentina Sierra, Permanent Mission of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

I want to thank a Geneva Environment Network for this important event and the distinguished panelists for their interventions who just want to highlight that for us. It’s essential to make climate change a real priority in the Human Rights Council We’re ready to commit to negotiate with the Human Rights Council in funding foremost and to promote the establishment of the new Special Rapporteur on Climate Change And Human Rights. We think that is a way a correct way to make climate change a real priority.

We expect to adopt as soon as possible the right to environment so we have two main issues that we need to develop further and continue the discussions but take the decision as soon as possible because as IPCC assessment has shown we cannot delay more the action.

Closing

Moderator

It is an unpleasant task for me to bring this discussion to a close, the very rich discussions we’ve had this afternoon. I would like to thank you all participants, and also our distinguished panelists for your participation. Today we have had a very important and rich discussion underlying the climate emergency and the threat it poses to human rights. We have heard um overwhelming recognition of the need for to address human rights and climate change, and one concrete suggestion which has been announced today with the establishment of the core groups and its resolution.

I therefore would like to invite participants to remain engaged. Some of you have pledged that you will continue to engage constructively and actively in the resolution once this is tabled, in the coming informals. And lastly the recording of this event will be put online where the discussions can also continue. With these concluding remarks, I should say that as moderator it was my pleasure to moderate this very important discussion and I would like to thank you all.

Video

In addition to the live Webex and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.

The organizers sincerely thank the Geneva Cities Hub for providing the space and logistical facilities for this event.

Documents

Links