PBI-Canada asks: “How is the G7 summit responding to the threat of climate change to human rights?”

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP.

Speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the impacts of climate change, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned: “The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope.”

How has the G7 responded to this warning?

Promises made at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England included committing to halving their carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 2010, achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and increasing climate finance contributions to cut carbon emissions and cope with the existing impacts (extreme weather, rising sea levels) of climate change.

Let’s look more closely at each of these commitments:

1- Halving carbon emissions by 2030

G7 countries are responsible for about 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That amounted to about 8.6 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2019. There is no clear plan yet from the G7 as to how they will reduce this by one-half.

2- Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050

The concept of “net zero” has been described by climate scientists as a dangerous trap. It does not strictly mean reducing emissions, but rather includes carbon offsets (for example, an oil company planting a forest) and employing technology that does not yet exist on a vast scale to capture carbon in the air.

3- Increasing climate financing

Current commitments from G7 countries amount to $36 billion by 2025. This despite their pledge in 2016 to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to developing countries to help them cope with the impacts of climate change (such as rising sea levels) and to develop their economies within a net zero carbon framework.

Ending fossil fuel subsidies

G7 governments have also previously promised to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, a promise not highlighted in this G7 communique. G7 governments provide at least $87.7 billion a year in support for fossil fuels. This despite the pledge by G20 governments in 2009 and G7 governments in 2016 to eliminate “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” by 2025.

We were also looking for bold statements on migration and military spending in the communique.


The UN says that weather emergencies have forced around 21.5 million people a year to move since 2010 and that roughly 90 per cent of refugees come from countries that are the most vulnerable and least ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Military spending

In 2020, G7 countries spent $1.04 trillion on military expenditures. The US spent an estimated $778 billion, the UK $59.2 billion, Germany $52.8 billion, France $52.7 billion, Japan $49.1 billion, Italy $28.9 billion, and Canada $22.8 billion.

There are concerns that the world’s militaries, which themselves are responsible for an estimated 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon pollution each year, will be increasingly used against climate migrants at borders as they flee violence and disruption.

G7 on human rights defenders

The Open Societies Statement that accompanied the final communique from the G7 summit affirmed: “The importance of civic space and partnership with diverse, independent and pluralistic civil societies, including human rights defenders, in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

COP26 and human rights defenders

The UN COP26 climate summit is scheduled for November 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland. Peace Brigades International continues to follow this with particular concern for the risks faced by human rights defenders challenging environmental breakdown.

Four land and environmental defenders have been killed every week on average since the Paris climate agreement was reached at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.

In the lead-up to COP26, PBI-Canada is highlighting this UN Human Rights Council resolution that affirms: “Human rights defenders, including environmental human rights defenders, must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work free from hindrance and insecurity, in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

Please follow us in the coming weeks and months for more on the relationship between climate change and human rights.

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