5 things to know about human rights and climate change

Published by Brent Patterson on

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1- Climate change has massive human rights implications

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has commented, “We call on leaders and governments to recognise that climate change and environmental degradation severely undermine the human rights of their people.” She has also stated, “The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope.” And UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston has warned, “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.” Furthermore, five UN human rights treaty bodies issued this Joint Statement on Human Rights and Climate Change.

2- Climate change increases violence against women

The UN has noted, “Climate change is recognized as a serious aggravator of gender-based violence. Climate action is therefore an essential component in the ongoing fight to eliminate violence against women and girls.” The International Union for the Conservation of Nature study Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality also found that, “Climate breakdown and the global crisis of environmental degradation are increasing violence against women and girls.”

3- Human rights defenders are needed to achieve climate justice

Katharine Rall of Human Rights Watch has stated, “The frequent attacks and threats against environmental rights defenders throughout the world are an example of why governments need to include protecting rights in their climate policies.” In recognition of this, the UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution that “stresses that human rights defenders … must be ensured a safe and enabling environment … in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement [reached at the COP21 climate summit in December 2015].”

4- WEHRDs are on the front lines of the struggle against climate change

The Women and Gender Constituency has stated, “Women environmental rights defenders continue to be on the front lines to save the planet, especially indigenous, black and those from the global south, and yet are harassed, threatened and persecuted by those in authority in their own countries and elsewhere.” The Gender-based violence and environmental linkages report dedicates a chapter to the situation of women environmental human rights defenders titled Gender-based violence in defending land, territories and the environment.

5- Land and environmental defenders are being killed

In 2018, 61 land and environmental defenders were killed in countries where Peace Brigades International has field projects: 24 were killed in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 14 in Mexico, 4 in Honduras, 2 in Kenya and 1 in Indonesia. Front Line Defenders has highlighted that 77% of the total number of defenders killed in 2018 were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects. Extractive industries and mega-projects are key drivers of the climate crisis.

PBI on the climate crisis

Peace Brigades International has stated, “PBI accompanies environmental defenders and activists in different parts of the world as part of our commitment to protect the environment and prevent further climate breakdown.”

PBI-Guatemala has commented, “The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges that has faced humanity for decades and, having grown in urgency over time, it is now causing much alarm.” Their article highlights the organizations they accompany who are raising their voices about the climate crisis.

And PBI-Honduras has observed, “The fact that Honduras is one of the areas most affected by the climate change within Latin America shows once again the importance of the work provided by land and territory defenders, criminalized for their work in defense of common goods.”

As various UN bodies have recognized, climate change poses a threat to interrelated human rights including the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to food, the right to water, and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

Peace Brigades International is now considering how to further highlight the interrelationship between climate change and human rights, the need to protect human rights defenders and how to meaningfully raise these concerns at the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland this coming November 9-19.

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