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Dhaka Tribune

Climate Change, Geneva Text and Human Rights

Update : 10 Apr 2015, 05:13 PM

The Geneva negotiations under the UNFCCC held during 08-13 February 2015 revived the debate over the relationship between climate change and human rights. The adopted text in a few sections, beginning with the Preamble, made seven references to human rights in addressing climate change. During the closing, 18 countries, both developed and developing, launched an informal initiative - the Geneva Pledge to facilitate better understanding of the connections between the two. The countries included, among others, are Costa Rica, Chile, France and Sweden. Their efforts include sharing of best practices and knowledge between human rights and climate experts. There is also a proposal for an International Climate Justice Tribunal to oversee the compliance of obligations under the agreement.

Thus the Geneva text appears to advance the beginning of process. That climate change is a human rights issue first appeared in the negotiating text at the Conference of Parties in December 2010. It states the need for all Parties `in all climate change-related actions, [to] fully respect human rights.’ This discourse has entered into formal negotiations before 2009 in Copenhagen and after, in the form of submissions to the Secretariat at the time by groups and countries,  such as AOSIS, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Thailand, Iceland and the LDCs. However, the discussions on this relationship remained inconclusive then. The pioneer push for linking climate change impacts to human rights came from the Inuit community in 2005 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The melting glaciers are already affecting the livelihoods of the more than 150,000 Inuit communities living across the Arctic region.

It is heartening to note that the issue had enjoyed greater prominence in the last few months, with the appointment of former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Mary Robinson as the UN Special Envoy for Climate Change. Robinson argued before that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “and the legal documents that stemmed from it have helped us combat torture, discrimination and hunger. And now these venerable documents should guide us in the fight against one of the greatest challenges ever to face humankind: climate change.” The UN Human Rights Council issued their first Resolution (2008, Resolution 7/23) on this, expressing concern that “climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In 2007-08, Maldives and other small island states have started work to realize this mission, which resulted in a Report by the Office of the HCHR back in 2009, led by Robinson.

Such conceptualizations come from the grim reality that climate change impacts documented by the IPCC are already undermining and likely to further undermine the realization of a range of protected human rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, security and livelihoods in the most vulnerable countries like Bangladesh. This band-wagoning of human rights and climate change is viewed as gaining enhanced traction for both regimes.

From a historical perspective, political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights have proceeded sequentially, in stages, as evidenced by the adoption of global conventions on different aspects of human rights. The first generation of rights concerned mainly political rights. The second generation of rights related to economic, social and cultural rights. Currently, there is already a strong movement for realization of a third generation of human rights, which include the right to a safe environment with a stable climate. I regret that despite being invited, I made it late to Geneva by few hours to join the dinner hosted by Envoy Robinson on 7 February to brainstorm this relationship between climate change and human rights. I hope not to miss such events in future and push for adoption of a text by the COP, eventually linking human rights to the evolving mechanism of Loss and Damage due to climate change.  

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