UN Human Rights Council to Create Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change
While the Council has created dozens of mandate holders, the wealthy developed countries have resisted creating the mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change since 2009, when the overwhelming majority of NGOs from all corners of the globe began calling for the creation of this mandate. Originally they complained about costs and/or redundancy with another environmental mandate, all the while they continued to create country mandates on a politicized basis. Moreover, while adopting several resolutions on the impact of climate change on human rights--acknowledging that the adverse effects of climate change was one of the greatest challenges to human rights in this century--they dragged their feet for predominately selfish and apparently discriminatory reasons.
Finally, in 2019-2020, the developing countries of the Climate Vulnerability Forum demanded the creation of this mandate and found the financing for it. The pandemic in 2020 delayed the creation of this mandate, but in 2021, with the President of the Human Rights Council, Fiji Ambassador Nazahat Shameen Khan, who has been President of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when Fiji officially hosted the COP (held in Bonn, Germany), it seems inevitable that this mandate will finally be created if developing countries continue to insist. The key challenge will now be to find a mandate holder with competence in both human rights and climate change; who is knowledgeable about both the UNFCC climate forum and the Human Rights Council; who is committed to human rights and does not have a record of supporting the views of States who have hampered climate action and climate justice; who has demonstrated credibility in both the field of human rights and climate change; and the who has demonstrated the energy necessary to both advise and encourage States to take adequate action to address the adverse effects of climate change on human rights.
Civil society, particularly in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas, must not only be involved in this process they must lead it. They must put the interests of their people first and ensure that this is a significant step towards the climate justice they have so long been denied.
Letter by Leonardo Boff, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann and Ramsey Clark
President Daniel Ortega
President Evo Morales
President Rafael Correa
President Nicolás Maduro
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
President Anote Tong
President Abdulla Yameen
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves
27 August 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The responsibility of humanity for our planet is a moral concern of the highest degree of urgency, as recognized by the compelling encyclical letter entitled ‘Laudato Si’ from Pope Francis. Humanity requires actors with courage and integrity to take urgently needed steps at this year's COP21 in December in Paris to protect all of Humanity. We urge you to act as your conscience dictates and steadfastly resist those willing to settle, or even strive for, mediocrity and political compromise. If you delegates act, together, with courage and conviction, we can achieve some specific common goals and save future generations from the adverse effects of climate change.
Now is the time to act as steps are already underway setting a path for future generations while defining the legacy of our current generation.
The Third Financing for Development Conference that recently concluded and the Addis Ababa Agenda that was agreed to is the first of three steps towards creating some momentum towards a sustainable and humane world in which all people, especially the most vulnerable enjoy solidarity and development. The Conference agreed to an outcome document that did little to change existing structures. These are structures that the encyclical Laudato Si’ correctly noted embed a current economic system that is both fuelling the climate crisis and preventing us from taking the necessary actions to avoid disaster.
Similarly the Sustainable Development Goals that will be adopted in September constitute another opportunity to move towards a more equal world based on equity and respect for all persons' human rights, including the right to development. Although there is a stronger defence of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and other important principles, there are few concrete commitments to action. Again, it appears that, in general, the lowest common denominator will be achieved in this second step towards securing development for all.
The final step will be the climate talks that will be held in Paris. The two negotiating sessions that will be held in Bonn in August/September and October of this year offer the final opportunity to raise our level of ambition in the new agreement.
We urge you to coordinate together to call for, at minimum, the following:
(1) To put in the new agreement emission limits that will keep global average temperature rises under 1.5 degrees Celsius;
(2) To ensure respect for the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities; (3) To ensure that Annex I countries take the lead in providing adequate mitigation and adequate financial resources, capacity-building and technology access to developing countries. In this regard we call upon you to support the proposal to allocate 0.5% of the GNI for climate finance;
(4) To ensure that health consequences climate change are clearly identified as a major concern in the Adaptation section of the new agreement; and
(5) To call for the establishment of an International Climate Justice Tribunal.
We are aware that defending these actions is extremely difficult in the current political environment. It will require the courage to stand-up to significant dissent, based on the narrow self-interests of a small minority of specific but powerful States, but meeting today’s challenges and undertaking all these actions are necessary to fulfill our responsibilities towards our fellow human beings, the community of life and towards God. Our choice is between acting now or perishing as fools.
Member of the International Initiative on The Earth Charter
Attorney General of the United States of America, 1967-1969
Deputy U.S. Attorney General 1965-1967
International Human Rights Lawyer and activist
Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann
President of the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, 2008-2009
Foreign Minister of the Republic of Nicaragua, 1979-1990
Bonn ADP2 and one step closer...maybe
1. Developed States are still unwilling to take adequate action and don't seem like they will budge before December, or soon afterwards.
2. Developing States now face irreversable harm and are focused on loss and damage to try to deal with it, after mitigation to avoid it and adaptation to protect them from the adverse consequenecs of climate change seeme to have failed to materialize in the needed timeframe.
3. Bolivia is still pushing for a Climate Justice Tribunal and for non-market mechanisms, but both seem distant dreams.
4. Mitigation is a disaster. Less then 50 (of the 194) States have accepted the Doha interim agreement and no developing State seems willing to undertake any thing near the emission reductions that are needed.
5. The talk of keeing global warming under 1.5 degrees Celisus seems like a red herring being perpetuated by the developed countiries as much as by developed countries. The latter see it as a necessity to protect their people. The former see it as a carrot they can use to keep more innovated ideas from getting a hearing. In the end it is likely States could agree on 2 degrees, but even that will be meaningless as there is so little in the new treaty that will help us to achieve this goal.
Finally, Leonardo Boff (renown theologian), Miguel D'Escoto (former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and 63rd UN GA President) and Ramsey Clark (former 66th US Attroney General) joined a letter to about ten world leaders urging them to act with courage on climate chnage. The letter will be posted shortly.
Compromises and Double-Speak: The Lima Climate Summit: a Failure in All but Name
Crucial to building a new agreement anchored in already agreed principles and improved ambition is the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. This principle, properly applied, enables developing countries to continue to develop and places a responsibility commensurate to their historical overexploitation of the planet’s atmosphere on developed countries. It is a principle of fairness and justice. It is the legal principle that is the foundation of the UNFCCC.
Before COP20, with little attention to this principle, however, the UNFCCC Executive Director in her remarks for months, the UN Secretary-General at his High Level Climate Summit on 23 September, and several optimistic delegates predicted some break through success in the negotiations. Instead, in the aftermath of COP20 we are left picking up the pieces after yet another failed attempt to take the action that the science and existing international law tell us is necessary to deal adequately with climate change. Below this piece examines some of the reasons why this was the case.
A New Agreement: Paris2015 text
The main task of COP20 was to provide more form to the new agreement that was to reach by the end of next year. This was to be done in two steps. First, a COP decision was to be agreed that would be a roadmap for getting to an adequately ambitious agreement in Paris in 2015 based on the Adhoc Durban Programme (ADP). Second, progress was suppose to be made in shaping the elements of a text into the text of an agreement (Paris2015 text). In addition, progress was to be made on operationalizing the Warsaw Loss and Damage Mechanism, on finance, and on a process for increasing ambition. Despite the apparent optimism most participants knew that any progress would be difficult, if not impossible.
During the first week of COP20 scant progress was made on elaborating the elements of the Paris2015 text. In most instances, the progress was aimed at clarifying the positions of the State parties, broadly divided by developing and developing countries and their allies. States from each block proposed alternative text for the different components of the treaty. In fact, they proposed alternative texts for almost every substantive article of the treaty. This created a list of alternative proposals pointing in very different directions. For example, developed countries saw the burden of addressing the adverse effects of climate change as a shared responsibility of all States. Developing countries, however, objected. They pointed out that to share the burden equally after it had been caused by the developed countries was unfair. To do so, they said would keep them impoverished. There was no agreement. Like two explorers who cannot decide whether to head out North or South, it was merely agreed that North and South existed. This was heralded as progress by observers seeking at least a ray of hope.
Due to the intransigent positions, by the end of the first week, the Paris2015 text had been all but laid aside. This was because, while that text would be dealt with in meetings in additional February and May 2015, COP20 had to arrive at a decision on how to proceed in Lima. This required agreeing to some minimum rules of procedure and guidelines for progress. The second week, and then some, was devoted to the task of taking a decision in Lima.
Common But Differentiated Responsibilities
Emboldened by the weak leadership of Peru as COP20 President during the first week, developed States addressed this task by renewing their already once failed efforts to circumvent their obligations in the UNFCCC. Their most straight forward attack came in the form of the introduction of language in the COP decision on the Adhoc Durban Platform (ADP) that backed away from the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), which is expressly stated in article 3, paragraph 1, of the UNFCCC. Developed states suggested text attempting to qualify this principle as ‘evolving’. One European negotiator explained that this would enable CBDR to be interpreted with more flexibility.
Developing countries, led by the Group of 77 (G77), more than 132 of the United Nation 194 States, maintained that the principle of CBDR had been clearly agreed in the UNFCCC. Furthermore, as is stated in article 4 entitled ‘commitments’, for example, it was further elaborated to mean that wealthier developed countries should provide leadership on climate action by significantly cutting their remissions and ensuring developing countries access to the technology, the capacity building, and new and additional finance for their mitigation and adaptation actions. Developed countries were intransigently unconvinced.
Speaking for about three dozen developing countries on the morning of Saturday, 13 December 2015, while the meeting was still struggling to adopted a text a day after the conference should have concluded, Malaysia explained the problem recognizing that States “started off from different starting points.” Recalling developed countries historical overexploitation of the planet’s atmosphere the Malaysian delegate, supported by the G77 think-tank, the South Centre, said, “Many of you colonized us; so we started from a completely different point and that is why one of the manifestations of differentiation is in the Convention itself.”
Finance and Loss & Damage
The discussion began cordially with was developing countries expression their appreciation to the developed countries for providing 30 billion USD in fast-track finance that they had pledge to provide in 2009 at the COP held in Copenhagen. At the same time, there was concern about how States would come up with the 100 billion USD per year that was pledged by 2020 and every year there after. This concern was accentuated by the fact that many of the most knowledgeable climate finance voices were suggesting that in reality in excess of a trillion USD would be needed annually.
Developed countries were keen to put their faith in the private sector and market mechanisms, even through most also admitted that only a fraction of the these significant sums could be produced without public commitments.
While head to head discussions were being held about how to come up with adequate finances, the UNFCCC Secretariat and the UN Secretary-General were busy applauding the just over 10 billion USD that had been raised for the Green Climate Fund. One had to wonder however, how that would add up to 100 billion a year by 2020 and how the short coming between the 100 billion that is to be pledged and the more than 1 trillion per year that is needed will be covered. Nobody had answers for these questions.
The final decisions on finance adopted on the Saturday after the meeting should have ended, merely called for more discussions about how the required amount of finance would be found by the Standing Committee on Finance, the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environmental Facility, and the COP. These decisions also reiterated the 100 billion USD figure that had already become discredited as an unrealistic appraisal of the funds might have been viable five years ago if adequate action had been taken, when no action had been taken. Like the COP decision, the finance decisions did not admit defeat, but neither did they accomplish a significant step towards resolving the problem of how the differentiation required under the UNFCCC would be supported.
Because of the failure to adequately mitigate their own emissions or to provide adequate resources to developing countries for adaptation, developed countries agreed at COP19 held in Warsaw, to provide assistance to the worst effected countries. This was done by an agreement to create a loss and damage mechanism. The exact nature of the assistance that will be provided remains as ambiguous as the mechanism itself.
At one extreme, developing countries sought to make it a lex specialismechanism. As such it would be a separate legal regime for dealing with the loss and damage that States, mainly developing States, suffer from the adverse effects of climate change. Such a lex specialis mechanism could extinguish the existing rights to compensation and other types of restitution that effected States already have under international law, abet often without effective means of implementation. Developing States, however, point to its vague mandate as merely providing advice on how States can deal with loss and damage caused by climate change.
Despite the ongoing disagreement, COP20 merely agreed to the makeup of the membership of the Executive Committee of the Loss & Damage Mechanism. It was agreed that it should be balanced between mainly developing and developed countries. What is still left to be seen is what the Loss and Damage Mechanism can actually accomplish.
Real Commitments Forgotten
The final COP20 decision that was hammered out almost two days after the conference was to have ended and after most delegates had already left, said very little about any really commitments on the most important of all issues: how States will limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of committing to emissions limitations that are more meaningful than those agreed in the deficient Kyoto Protocol or its equally weak Doha amendment, States merely reiterated their intention not to agree to any commitments. The COP20 decision refers to the confusingly named ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) as the standard of action. INDCs are voluntary statements by States about how much they intend to limit their emissions (mitigation) as well as how much they intend to contribute to adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building. But even what would be actually be stated in the INDCs was a point of contention.
Equally contentious was how to ensure that INDCs actually equal what is needed to protect the planet from a climate disaster. While developed States continued to insist on mechanisms to ensure developing countries spend any money provided them correctly, developing States sought assurances that they would actually get adequate money.
In the end, the COP20 decision contains a confusing mix of compromises, double-speak, and often just simple says nothing of any significant meaning.
Planning for Inaction
As the Lima COP indicated, many negotiators are ready to give up on an agreement that will honor what science and existing international law, especially the UNFCCC, require to deal with the adverse effects of climate change. Instead they are resigned to adopting a series of face-saving gestures that leave the most vulnerable people in the world increasingly exposed to the harrowing consequences of climate change.
The writing was on the wall as Peru was chosen to host COP20 about eighteen months ago. Initially Venezuela had been the main contender for hosting the COP for South America, the region whose turn it in the regular geographic rotation. Venezuela was a natural choice as it was one of the most outspoken States calling for adequate action on climate change. Its views on the needed action aligned with the views of the overwhelming number of countries, mainly developing countries.
This did not suit the rich and politically powerful developed countries. To get their way they went to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and convinced him to put forward his country to host COP20. Peru’s relative irrelevance to the last decade of COPs made them a natural choice for developed countries seeking to fight the real battles on their home turf at next year’s COP in Paris.
Peru obliged, but quickly exposed the game being played when some of its diplomats, including those at COP19, did not even know that they were to host COP20. Similarly, Peru’s diplomats at the United Nations in New York and Geneva seemed total bewildered by the mention of the climate change summit.
Western States also preyed on the fact that Peru’s President Ollanta Humala, although in the past a close friend of Venezuela’s strong-minded President Hugo Chavez, had evolved into a leader closer to past Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who had been propped up by Western power until he fled the country. Fujimori eventually returned to Peru and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for his crimes against humanity. Today Keiko Fujimori, the former right-wing dictator’s daughter and current candidate for President in the 2016 elections, agrees with many of Humala’s policies, which often appear critical of Venezuela’s socialism.
For developed countries, Humala and Peru seemed to provide an adequate setting for maintaining the benefits they had gained by their historic overexploitation of the planet’s atmosphere. And if there was to be a battle at least it would not be a battle they had to fight in hostile territory.
As if to put authoritarian tendencies on display and warn delegates that derogations from the status quo were not welcomed, COP20 was held in a military compound. The military compound was in Lima’s sprawling upscale San Borja neighbourhood and securely guarded by legions of police, military police, and soldiers nestled within the security of barbwire, tank blockades, and security cameras. Even as the COP was taking place military jet and helicopters made fly-overs and a several points, explosive could be heard detonating as delegates negotiated.
To pay for this extravaganza, or merely to profit from it, Lima’s hotels and restaurants often tripled their prices, something is admittedly common at UN Conferences. Even money changers offered about 30% less when exchanging dollars or Euros than they did a few weeks ago. It was not that Peruvian Soles had increased in value, it was just that the UN was in town.
By the time COP20 started the writing was on the wall. Ironically, even United States Secretary of State John Kerry observed in his flying second visit to the COP that “we are still on a course leading to tragedy.” He failed to note that it is few wealthy nations like his own that need to show leadership to in order to avoid tragedy.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that once again the COP meeting did not inspire the leadership that is necessary for global climate action. It failed to move us closer towards taking adequate action as time was quickly running for many of the most vulnerable people exposed to climate change.
For some it may already be to late. Low lying island States, such as the Maldives are already doomed to disappear under the rising sea tides. Thousands of vulnerable people in countries like the Philippines have already succumb to storms of increasing intensity. And, as the chief negotiator for the 133 States that make up the Group of 77 or the G77, Sudanese Ambassador Lumumba Daping, warned already half a decade ago, unless we act now as many as one hundred million sub-Saharan Africans will die due to the adverse effects of climate change.
When the Ambassador Lumumba Daping stated the grime reality at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, several wealthy States dismissed as scare mongering. Today, the harrowing scenarios he predicted coming true. Still, the same governments that benefited from almost two centuries of overexploitation of our planet’s atmosphere continue to obstinately defend these ill-gotten gains, even as others have to bear the deadly consequences. It is hard to see how this can be called anything, but a failure.
From an article published in Counterpunch.org on 22 December 2014 by CFJ Doebbler
COP19 ends with a whimper and scarey omen for COP20
A text on Loss and Damage was so confusing that even the COP19 President Korolec said he wasn't sure what it meant.
A text on Finance kept the issue alive, but didn't add much money. The results for the Adaptation Fund whcih set itself a modest goal of 100 million USD, when an estimated 400 to 650 billion USD is needed annually, was achived, but the Green Climate Fund remains empty. At the same time the US does not even want to talk abotu longterm finance, but even in the short term only 6 billion of the meagre 100 billion to be raised by 2020 and then for each year thereafter has been raised. Again reasonable estimates say at leaset 1 trillion is needed annual to mitigate and adapt to climate change by 2020 and this figures goes up every year that we do not take effective action.
And on REDD COP19 agree to a text that faours market mechanisms, but also included non-market approaches.
Most environment NGOs assessed COP19 as a failure.
In light of that assessment their weer some pretty worried faces when the COP19 President announced that he had worked closely with Peru and France, where the next two COPs will be held and that these two coutries shared responsibility for the outcome at COP19.