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UN Human Rights Council, Social Forum

CLIMATE CHANGE AND HUMAN RIGHTS


The IEF participated in the 2010 Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council on the subject of climate change and human rights. The Social Forum is organized each year to facilitate a dialogue with civil society on an important issue for human rights.

In preparation for the Social Forum, the Interfaith Forum on Climate Change and Environment in Geneva, which includes the International Environment Forum, organized a one-day training for Social Forum participants on 1 October 2010 at the Ecumenical Center, Geneva, on “Human Rights? An approach to respond to the challenges of climate change”, co-sponsored by IEF, the Catholic International Centre of Geneva, WaterLex, and the World Council of Churches. Fourteen experts, including IEF President Arthur Dahl, discussed the challenges of climate change for people, the international legal framework protecting the victims of climate change, the political role of states, and expectations vis-à-vis the governments: perspectives of civil society. Arthur Dahl, presented a paper on The Constraints of UNEP and International Environmental Law to Respond Effectively to the Victims of Climate Change. An NGO declaration was drafted calling on the Human Rights Council to name a special rapporteur on human rights and climate change (see Appendix 1)

The Social Forum at the Palais des Nations on 4-6 October 2010 also included expert presentations on the adverse effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights, including the right to life and economic, social and cultural rights, as well as human rights concerns of specific vulnerable groups, in particular indigenous communities, women, children and internally displaced persons. Measures and actions at the national, regional and international levels were reviewed, as well as the way forward through a rights-based approach to climate change, the green economy and technology transfer. There was ample time for open debate with all participants. The IEF presented its reflections on the human rights challenges of persons permanently displaced by climate change, and the need to prepare receiving communities to respond positively to such immigrants, building unity in diversity while respecting human rights and helping migrants to maintain their cultures, social ties and values (see Appendix 2). The World Bank expert responded that this was a neglected issue that deserved more attention, and it was mentioned by the chairperson in her final summary. The NGO declaration was also presented to the Social Forum, endorsed by over 30 NGOs, and included in the recommendations of the forum.

The Social Forum showed that a human rights approach gives the challenges of climate change a human face, particularly of the women, children and other vulnerable groups that will be most affected. It was also clear that the Bahá'í approach to building communities able to take charge of their own development is an answer to many of the human challenges arising from climate change, as it is to many other social problems facing society.

For additional information. see the OHCHR news release at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/2010SFClimatechangeaHR.aspx which refers to the NGO declaration. All the formal presentations of the Social Forum are available on line at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/poverty/presentations2010.htm.


Appendix 1 - NGO declaration that the IEF helped to draft and co-sponsored

1 October 2010

NGO Declaration on "Climate Change & Human Rights"

The below listed organizations,

Reminding the participants of the United Nations Human Rights Council's 3rd Social Forum that, if the international scientific community is still debating the timeline, the reality of climate change and its already visible consequences on the livelihood of populations are beyond discussion;

Acknowledging the negative effects on vulnerable populations, especially indigenous peoples, women and children, and the poor;

Concerned about the adverse impact of climate change on access to water, food, housing and eventually life and therefore on the of human rights of local populations to water, food, housing and life;

Concerned about the effects of climate change on the very survival of some cultures and nations, and on the situation of statelessness and internally displaced peoples;

Recalling in this context Article 27 of the 1966 International covenant on civil and political rights, the 1961 United Nations Convention on Statelessness and the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement;

Recalling the 2008 Human Rights Council Res.7/23, which recognizes that climate change is a global problem and that it requires a global solution;

Recalling the 2009 Human Rights Council Res. 10/4, which stresses that climate change-related impacts have a range of implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of human rights including, inter alia, the right to life, the right to adequate food, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to adequate housing, the right to self-determination and human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and recalling that in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence;

Recalling the 2008 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the relationship between climate change and human rights (A/HRC/10/61);

Recommend to the Social Forum:
1.To identify, with concrete examples and testimonies, the impacts of climate change on the lives and human rights of individuals and peoples;
2.To request the Human Rights Council to continue to hold an annual discussion to the track the rapidly evolving impacts of climate change on human rights;
3.To recommend to the Human Rights Council the establishment of a new special procedure with an independent expert. The mandate of the "Independent Expert on the Impact of Climate Change on the enjoyment of Human Rights" should in particular entail:
A study on the responsibilities of States in the area of climate change adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and funding, both at national and international levels, derived from their respective international human rights law commitments. The study should in particular research on the reality of climate displaced peoples, and suggest steps for the management of internally and internationally displaced persons as a result of climate change;
A close coordination and collaboration with the Human Rights Council Special Procedures and subsidiary bodies, in particular the Special Rapporteur (SR) on the right to food, the SR on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the Right to non-discrimination in this context, the SR on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the Independent Expert (IE) on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, the IE on the question of human rights and extreme Poverty and other related relevant Special Procedures mandates.
A close coordination and collaboration with the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as other relevant United Nations specialized agencies and programs, in particular UNEP, UNHABITAT and UNWOMEN, in order to facilitate exchange of information in the area of human rights and climate change.

This declaration has been finalized and adopted by the participants of the conference "Human Rights? An approach to respond to the challenge of Climate Change", which took place on Friday 1st October 2010 at the WCC in Geneva.

The following organizations endorse this declaration:
Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN)
ANPED – Northern Alliance for Sustainability
Australian Climate Justice Program
Both ENDS - Netherlands
Capacity Global – United Kingdom
Center for Law Information - Indonesia
Civil Society Biofuels Forum - Zambia
Earthjustice
Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
FIAN - International
Franciscans International
Freshwater Action Network – Central America (FANCA)
Friends of the Earth - Togo
Greenpeace International
Indonesia Law Report (ILR) - Indonesia
International Catholic Center of Geneva
International Council of Women
International Environment Forum
International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (ISMUN)
Just Strategies - Business for a Better Planet
Lutheran World Federation
North-South XXI
Mines, Minerals & People - India
Samata - India
Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries
Stand up for your rights – Netherlands
UNESCO - Etxea
Vzw ’t Uilekot Herzele - Netherlands
WaterLex
Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) - Germany
World Council of Churches


Appendix 2 - IEF statement

International Environment Forum Statement
to the
Human Rights Council
Social Forum on Climate Change and Human Rights
Geneva, 6 October 2010

The International Environment Forum, a Baha'i-inspired organization for environment and sustainability, has been exploring the ethical dimensions of climate change for several years, and offers the following reflections to the Social Forum.

The predicted scale of human climate change impacts in coming decades is unprecedented in our historical experience, with estimates of 100 million to 500 million displaced persons. The Social Forum has focused legitimately on the tragedy and loss of human rights for those affected, particularly the most vulnerable.

But we also need to consider the physical, financial, social and ethical challenges that such massive movements of populations represent for the communities, regions and countries receiving these displaced persons. As Mr. Boncour noted on the first day of the Social Forum, migration may be the best, or only, form of adaptation for many. Regardless of any future reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels are expected to rise between 80 cm and 2 meters in this century, and 100 million people live less than 1 meter above sea level. They will have no possibility to go back to their homes and communities.

A human rights educational approach is essential to overcoming the resistance of receiving populations and to ensure respect for the human rights of these migrants. People must realize that we are all responsible for causing climate change, and we all have a responsibility of solidarity and compassion for those impacted by our behaviour.

The space and resources to receive displaced populations on this scale are not evenly distributed around the world. Climate change will make some regions less habitable and others more so. How do we organize the movement of permanently displaced people to the places and countries best able to resettle them and to return to them their full human rights? We need international institutions able to manage significant migrations beyond national boundaries, lowering immigration barriers just as the World Trade Organization has lowered barriers to global trade. The free movement of people is the missing dimension of globalization. This is politically challenging, but the alternative is human suffering and loss of rights on a massive scale.

A positive human rights approach raises the following questions:
- How do we replace the fear of immigrants with an appreciation for the human qualities, resources, skills and values that they bring?
- How do we build strong communities with unity in diversity between displaced and receiving populations?
- How do we help migrants to maintain their cultures, social ties and values when displaced permanently, and how do we balance this appreciation of cultural diversity with assimilation into the host country or community?
- Can we organize the movement of whole communities, and not just individuals or families?
- How do we fund the cost of resettlement, providing housing, economic opportunities, social services and infrastructure, perhaps under international adaptation mechanisms? Such costs should not necessarily fall only on the receiving country or community.

Responding to these questions will require educational campaigns, community consultation, the involvement of civil society and faith-based groups, and ethical and human rights approaches encouraged by governments, that are strong enough to overcome the inevitable political resistance and controversy. The science says we have no choice.


Last updated 25 November 2010