We must protect those who protect our planet

Urgent call for rights-based climate action

November 9, 2022
 Urgent call for rights-based climate action

Threats to the environment are threats to everyone, and collaborative efforts at national, regional, and global levels are required for effective climate action

UNDP Timor Leste

Climate change is an urgent threat to humanity and to the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights. Threats to the environment are threats to everyone, and collaborative efforts at national, regional, and global levels are required for effective climate action.

Following the universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the UN General Assembly in July 2022, the UN Human Rights Council on 7 October adopted a resolution welcoming the critical contributions of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in monitoring, reporting and advising governments and other stakeholders on climate action that is based on human rights.

To enhance NHRIs’ action in protecting and promoting human rights in the context of climate change,  the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) hosted a global symposium on 2 November 2022 in advance of the annual conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27). The symposium was organized  by the GANHRI in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the framework of the TriPartite Partnership to support NHRIs.

“NHRIs have been essential actors in addressing climate change and the protection of environmental human rights defenders in their regular work,” said Maryam Abdullah Al Attiyah, GANHRI Chairperson, when opening the event. GANHRI has published an open letter ahead of COP27 calling on Member States to address climate change in line with their human rights obligations and has formed a Caucus of NHRIs to help advance human rights in the face of climate change.

“A clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a matter of justice,” said Asako Okai, Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Crisis Bureau Director, emphasizing that national human rights institutions and environmental human rights defenders are at the forefront of climate action. ASG Okai reaffirmed UNDP’s support in making the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment a reality for all.

Acknowledging the heightened risks that environmental human rights defenders face, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on environmental human rights defenders under the Aarhus Convention and Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change – urged all stakeholders to prioritize protection of human rights defenders, with a particular attention to indigenous peoples and women who face additional specific threats.

NHRIs of Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco and Norway shared how they have strengthened protections for environmental human rights defenders in their countries. A representative of the Mongolian National Human Rights Commission described the Commission’s role in the adoption of a law in Mongolia, the first of its kind in Asia-Pacific, recognizing the legal status of environmental human rights defenders and their protection.

Participants also discussed pathways to enhance the participation of human rights defenders, NHRIs and other stakeholders in climate change talks. Experience with the Aarhus Convention in Europe and the Escazu Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean, which provide mechanisms to enhance public participation in environmental matters, was presented. Yves Lador, Geneva Representative of Earthjustice described the relevance of these regional mechanisms to global climate action. “Climate action depends on all people being able to exercise their right to meaningful and informed public participation,” stressed Vladen Stefanov, Chief of the National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Section of OHCHR.”

Arnold Kreilhuber, Deputy Director of Law Division, United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) concluded the symposium in emphasizing that transformative change in our societies is needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. The message from the participants – ranging from NHRIs, UN representatives to civil society – is clear: a rights-based approach to climate action is needed to urgently advance an inclusive climate action and ensure a green recovery in which no one is left behind in the realization of the 2030 Agenda.