A rights-based transformation towards net-zero

Anna Triponel

December 13, 2021
Our key takeaway: The environmental and human rights agendas must become holistically integrated so that we can pivot to a net-zero future in ways that build trust, solidarity, and shared responsibility for results. This starts by making business and human rights standards and approaches more relevant to ongoing climate action at every level.

The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) released its Top Ten Business and Human Rights Issues in 2022:

  • Focus on “the net-zero future to which the world must now pivot”: IHRB underscores that “[w]e must respond to the challenge” of pivoting to a net-zero future “in ways that build trust, solidarity, and shared responsibility for results.” “Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, it is imperative that environmental and human rights agendas become holistically integrated. That includes making business and human rights standards and approaches more relevant to ongoing climate action at every level.” IHRB’s top ten list examines the intersection of human rights and climate action, and is: (1) State leadership, (2) accountable finance, (3) dissenting voices, (4) critical commodities, (5) purchasing power, (6) responsible exits, (7) green building, (8) agricultural transitions, (9) transport transformations and (10) circular economy.
  • The just energy transition and the just agricultural transition:
  • Purchasing power: This is about “using the leverage of renewable energy buyers to accelerate a just transition.” IHRB notes that although the “private sector accounts for around half the world’s end-use of electricity, … “there is little evidence to demonstrate purchasers of renewables are including appropriate actions to prevent, mitigate, or remedy the human rights impacts of their energy suppliers.” “[L]ooking ahead it is imperative that buyers of renewable energy – private and public – use their individual and collective purchasing power to set clear human rights expectations, continually engage renewables companies on their human rights risks, and demonstrate leadership as key players in driving a truly just transition to the green economy.”
  • Responsible exits: This is about “protecting workers and communities in transitions out of high-carbon activities.” IHRB underscores that “[c]limate mitigation measures will have a major impact on many economies, communities, and workers who have long depended on the production, processing, export and consumption of fossil fuels. Assets will need to be closed down and in some cases are already being sold on to less responsible actors with poor track records for respecting workers, communities, and the local environment.” “The energy transition is about the environment as well as people. Looking ahead, the “responsible exit” challenge will require commitment to meaningful engagement with diverse stakeholders and an equitable distribution of the benefits and losses resulting from the unavoidable economic and social changes to come.”
  • Critical commodities: This is about “addressing human rights risks in mining to meet clean energy needs.” IHRB spotlights rapidly growing demand for “commodities like copper, cobalt, lithium, cadmium, rare earth elements, and silicon, which are essential for green economy technologies including solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle motors, wind turbines, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors.” Impacts of these critical commodities include encroachment of indigenous peoples’ lands, depletion of groundwater resources, chemical pollution, hazardous exposure, forced labour, unsafe working conditions, and child labour. “The year ahead presents a critical moment to rethink the way economies and industries operate as attention mounts on the human rights implications of the drive to obtain the commodities critical to renewable energy, green technology, and more environmentally sustainable economies.”
  • Agricultural transitions: This is about “embedding equity and justice in global food production transformations.” “Food production is responsible for about one-third of global emissions, with the largest emissions coming from the heavily industrialised global north reliant on intensive, large-scale farming.” At the same time, “[a]griculture is often identified as one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate change.” IHRB points to “opportunities for the sector to reduce emissions while addressing food security, resilience, and rural development goals. In doing so, it will be imperative for underrepresented and marginalised groups – such as women, small holders, migrant workers, and indigenous peoples – to be at the centre of this industrial transformation and decision.” IHRB references ActionAid’s Principles for a Just Transition in Agriculture which provides four key steps to guide governments and business in achieving a rights-based transformation in agriculture. Of note, “[w]hile the just energy transition has begun to gain tangible momentum in policy fora such as the UNFCCC, the same cannot be said for the agricultural sector. The 2022 UN Climate Conference in Egypt (COP27) will provide an opportunity to ensure the highest emitting sectors, including agriculture, are given the appropriate scrutiny and resourcing for just transition policy design and support.”
  • States, finance and voice:
  • State leadership: This is about “placing people at the centre of government strategies in confronting the climate crisis.” 2021 saw the connections between the human rights and the climate agendas affirmed in important ways, and “[t]he year ahead will see increasing demands on states to take the steps needed to incentivise faster rights-respecting climate action.”
  • Accountable finance: This is about “scaling up efforts to hold financial actors to their human rights and environmental responsibilities.” IHRB notes that [t]he present-day financial implications on rights and livelihoods are very real, with an estimated shortfall in insurance cover of US$227 billion for loss and damage from flooding, wildfires, and other climate-driven catastrophes already affecting vulnerable communities.” IHRB calls for social accountability by financial actors pledging climate action, and “to embed mainstream understanding of the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights as the core standard of the S in ESG.”
  • Dissenting voices: This is about “ensuring development and environment priorities do not silence land rights defenders and other critical voices.” Specifically, “[i]n 2022, much greater efforts are needed by companies and governments involved throughout energy and technology chains to engage and listen to communities and to find meaningful ways of addressing the legitimate concerns of land defenders and other activists. That includes those calling out intended or unintended consequences of rapid climate action.”

For further information, see IHRB, Top Ten Business and Human Rights Issues in 2022 (December 2021)

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