Our key takeaway: Ian Fry, the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, could not have been clearer in his recent report to the UN Human Rights Council: we are facing an “enormous climate change crisis of catastrophic proportions”, and the time to take action is now. There are three areas in particular that we need to address: (1) advancing on mitigation (both reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as tackling the human rights implications of mitigation); (2) recognising the huge losses people are facing because of climate change - especially in the Global South - and providing mechanisms to repair this significant loss and damage; and (3) fixing the ‘participation disconnect’ that exists in the climate change arena by enabling the participation and protection of climate rights defenders. The good news is that Ian Fry provides detailed recommendations on all of these three themes. The not so good news is that these require political commitment, resources and intention: are States ready to meet their international human rights obligations?
Ian Fry, the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change (appointed in May 2022) has submitted his report (July 2022) to the UN Human Rights Council: ‘Promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change mitigation, loss and damage and participation’:
- “An enormous climate change crisis of catastrophic proportions”: “We are faced with a global crisis in the name of climate change. … We are already confronted with a climate change emergency that comes with inherent serious human rights abuses. We can no longer delay. The time to actively address this emergency is now.” The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that “[c]limate change already undermines … the rights and freedoms of all people. We are being confronted with an enormous climate change crisis of catastrophic proportions. It is happening now.” The Special Rapporteur underscores that the preamble to the Paris Agreement references human rights, and governments are asked to “consider their respective obligations on human rights.” There are functional arrangements under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement that can support our next steps: (1) mitigation (emissions reduction), (2) loss and damage (the impacts of climate change) and (3) participation in decision-making processes in the climate change regime. The report delves into all three themes.
- Human rights implications of mitigation actions: The report delves into two themes related to mitigation: the fact that “an inadequate response to reducing greenhouse gas emissions has a significant negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights” and the fact that “some mitigation actions have a significant impact on the exercise of human rights.” When it comes to mitigation itself, the Special Rapporteur notes that “[t]he global response to reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been grossly inadequate” and calls on States to meet their human rights obligation to prevent, by limiting greenhouse gas emissions; as well as their human rights obligation to protect, by regulating the private sector. When it comes to the human rights implications of the mitigation actions themselves, the report delves into the human rights implications of forest-based mitigation, hydroelectric dams, the location of wind turbines, and mitigation technologies.
- Loss and damage; as well as participation and protection of climate rights defenders: The report delves into loss and damage, provided for in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement that provides that “Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” The Special Rapporteur observes that “[f]rom a human rights perspective, loss and damage are closely related to the right to remedy and the principle of reparations, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.” The report delves into the “multitude of human rights impacts” created by climate change and the “hard realities of the of the enormity of the losses and damages suffered by people, particularly by those in the global South.” These include impacts on people from floods, heavy rain and strong winds; from coastal storms, floods and sea level rise; from increased carbon dioxide concentrations; from droughts; and from extreme heat. Added to these are the economic costs of climate change, as well as the non-economic costs (e.g. displacement). The Special Rapporteur delves into the international and national responses to funding loss and damage, emphasizing that these efforts are wholly inadequate and require significantly more resources, political backing and commitment. The report then delves into climate rights defenders, noting a “participation disconnect” where “those who are most affected and suffering the greatest losses are the least able to participate in current decision-making. New participatory processes need to be found urgently.” The Special Rapporteur provides a number of recommendations for tackling this participation disconnect and ensure both participation, as well as protection, of climate rights defenders. These recommendations sit alongside detailed recommendations to advance on bridging the mitigation gap as well as related to loss and damage.