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Paris agreement puts human rights in limbo: Experts

The first draft of the Paris agreement on climate change is sorely lacking on protecting human rights, said UN experts and civil society activists on International Human Rights Day, observed on Thursday.

Climate change is a human rights crisis, and the global deal inked by leaders in Paris must do more to protect the rights of vulnerable and native communities, said civil society members and United Nations experts on Thursday. 

Speaking to the press at the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, Craig Mokhiber, chief, development & economic & social issues branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that “climate change has negative impacts on a broad range of internationally guaranteed human rights”.

These include the right to food, water, and sanitation, and in the cases of low-lying developing countries, the right to life itself, he said at the briefing, held on the UN’s International Human Rights Day. 

This day commemorates the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 67 years ago, and every country in the world has ratified at least one, if not more, global human right treaties, said Mokhiber.

“Member states convened here in Paris should remember this, and not do anything to undercut those human rights,” he said.

Mitigation and adaptation measures agreed in the text must be enough to safeguard people’s rights, he urged.

This means ensuring that donor countries commit to paying US$100 billion a year into a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change, and capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, rather than the current limit of 2 deg C. 

Many low-lying island states, which are especially vulnerable to climate change, have insisted that temperature rise beyond 1.5 deg C would pose an existential threat to their land and people. 

All these deliverables are still being debated in the halls of Le Bourget, Paris, where global leaders are expected to deliver a global agreement on climate change on Friday.

Annabella Rosemberg, policy officer, International Trade Union Congress, said that the first draft of the Paris agreement text, released on Wednesdya, “puts people’s rights in limbo”. 

This was because all the phrases which require governments to uphold the rights of communities and indigenous people were either in the preamble - which contains no actionable items - or “in brackets”, meaning that it is contested and could be removed. 

“They all must be in article two of the agreement to be fair,” she said, referring to the section of the agreement which outlines its key purpose. “A Paris deal without justice and rights is just a deal for the one per cent of the world’s richest”. 

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