December 10 is human rights day, thus it seemed quite fitting to attend an event that discussed how to frame climate change as a human rights issue.
The predicted impacts of climate change include increased intensity and frequency of extreme climatic events, droughts, floods, ocean acidification, among others, which in turn threaten food security, limit water availability, and increase the propensity for diseases. In effect, climate change jeopardizes the livelihood of many.
The panel consisted of representatives from Climate Law and Policy Project, Earthjustice and Republic of Seychelles. An Inuit and environmental activist stated that it is an ethical imperative to act on climate change. Global warming of the arctic, caused by green house gas emissions, threatened her culture, damaged her home and violated her people’s rights. She presented a petition with 4 demands:
- Parties accept Climate Change
- Recognize the Human Rights violations by emitting GHG
- Protect the human rights of people for whom climate change impacts are inevitable
- Ensure that the definition of “vulnerable” areas includes those of ice and snow
Aside: During this discussion water was stated as a “pre-requisite for the realization of human rights” yet it was not included in any demands. I think it should, but I must keep in minnd the objective of the COP: stabilize GHG emissions at levels that prevent irreversible negative impacts.
The idea of human rights violation brought up the point of an ecological debt that developed nations owe to developing nations. A more extreme panel (short from proposing a vigil, civil disobedience and sequestration until an agreement was signed) with members of only developing countries made the point that it is the marginalized nations that indeed suffer the most. “Climate change is like a sinking ship. The ones in the bottom sink first, but soon after, so do the ones at the top.”
The extreme panel also seemed to suggest that big business was at the root of the problem. To completely eliminate the business sector, or cast it as the foe, seems ineffective to me. The business sector has unique capabilities particularly to mobilize financial capital. Something that is very difficult to do if when the legal framework is purely humanitarian and voluntary.
To structure climate change as a human rights issue is to take a moral element and give it a legal backbone. This is often necessary in order to drive action. (This could be analogous to the U.S structuring greenhouse gas emissions as a health issue and thus allowing the EPA to act.)
Written by ANJULI JAIN.