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.

human rights protest cop21
Human rights campaigners in Paris on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2015. Image: Takver, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

Did you find this article useful? Help us keep our journalism free to read.

We have a team of journalists dedicated to providing independent, well-researched stories from around the region on the topics that matter to you. Consider supporting our brand of purposeful journalism with a donation and keep Eco-Business free for all to read. Thank you.

Most popular

Featured Events

Publish your event

More from COP21: UN Climate Change Conference

climate justice cop21
The Paris agreement is not perfect, but a constructive response would be to encourage the process. Extreme activists who describe it as a failure ironically chip away at the potential of the deal to bring about the very outcomes they desire.
coal crash
As worldwide demand for coal stalls, some experts believe the industry is now in such dire straits that it won’t be able to compete with renewables in future.
coal mountain australia
Despite its vital role in the development of Australia's economy, the future of coal looks grim in a world aiming to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius, says Newcastle University academic Gary Ellem.
UN celebrates adoption

Opinion / Carbon & Climate

The net-zero imperative

The Paris agreement has made big leaps in setting a cap for global temperature rise and international climate finance, but the important target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions was left out, say Oxford University's Eric Beinhocker and Myles Allen.
leaf background pattern

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Join the Ecosystem →

Strategic Organisations

Reneum
Danfoss
Trucost
ESG Book
Olam
City Developments Ltd