Weakened rights language in Paris climate draft sparks alarm

Rights experts urged ministers at UN climate talks to put respect for human rights back into the binding section of a draft new global deal to tackle global warming, after it was removed from the latest version released on Thursday evening.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is hoping to have the final text ready on Friday, and key issues remain open, with talks likely to carry on through the night.

Human rights organisations, aid agencies and climate-impacted people were disappointed to find an earlier binding proposal that said a Paris agreement should be implemented “on the basis of respect for human rights” had been thrown out.

“We would certainly think human rights is not something that should be dropped,” said Benjamin Schachter of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “There still is time to bring this language back.”

There has been concern during the two-week talks in Paris that some states - including Saudi Arabia, Norway and the United States - have been trying to weaken the presence of human rights in the climate deal.

The removal of the reference was a particular affront because of its timing, campaigners said.

“Incredibly, references to human rights have been stripped from the body of this U.N. agreement on the very day that people around the world mark Human Rights Day,” said Friends of the Earth International climate justice coordinator Sara Shaw.

On Thursday morning, UN experts said human rights are already being violated by climate change impacts, including more extreme weather and rising seas, as well as solutions.

A report from the UN Environment Programme said the environmental impacts of climate change pose a threat to human rights, including the rights to health, food, water and adequate housing.

Ursula Rakova of the Cartaret islands in the Pacific, a community leader who has been trying to relocate some of her people threatened by rising seas to Bougainville, said she was “very angry this agreement does not protect our rights”.

“Looking at this (text), it doesn’t give us any hope. It means business as usual. Climate change impacts violate our rights,” she added.

International aid group Oxfam described the loss of the binding human rights language as “extremely disappointing”, noting it followed the earlier loss of references to gender equality and a just transition to a clean economy.

The non-binding introduction to the latest version of the text acknowledges that climate change is “a common concern to humankind”. It says countries should “promote, respect and take into account their respective obligations on human rights” when developing policies and taking action to address climate change.

But this does not satisfy human rights officials or campaigners.

“The language in the preamble is merely aspirational. It doesn’t require (governments) to do anything,” said Alyssa Johl of the Center for International Environmental Law. “This means it’s not a priority issue for them.”

Joni Pegram, climate change policy advisor with the UN children’s agency Unicef UK, said combating climate change and helping communities adapt should be about ensuring the rights of children, particularly the poorest, and other vulnerable groups, including migrants, indigenous peoples and women.

“World leaders talk of securing a deal that will protect the planet for children and future generations, but what they are proposing suggests that these are nothing more than warm words,” she said.

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