The IPCC “code red for humanity” climate change report and human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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PBI-Canada and PBI-Colombia listening to an environmental defender talking about the impacts of a Canadian oil corporation on his community, July 2021.

The first installment of the Sixth Assessment Report, that reviews the available science assessing the state of climate change, was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday August 9.

A group of scientists has also leaked the third installment of this assessment report that says global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next four years and reaffirms the need to halve emissions in the next decade.

These are significant documents in relation to human rights defenders.

The political consensus is that we must limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Last year, we were already at 1.2C.

Human rights defenders are on the frontlines working to stop the megaprojects that further accelerate the climate crisis.

IPCC modelling says we will very likely hit 1.5C by 2040, but that if we don’t start bringing emissions down that could come by 2035.

While 1.2C has already had major implications for the planet, the IPCC says if we can achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we can stabilize temperatures at 1.5C.

If high carbon emissions continue, we could see 1.9C by 2040 and 3C by 2060.

UN Secretary General António Guterres says: “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.” He further highlights: “We [must] respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage.”

COP26, November 1-12

The next major moment is the COP (conference of parties) 26 climate summit this coming November 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland. This summit is intended to build on the COP21 Paris Agreement of December 2015 that aimed to limit the global temperature increase to 2C while pursuing the means to limit that to 1.5C.

The hope is that COP26 will increase the level of “climate ambition” beyond the Paris Agreement.

Significantly, the carbon reduction targets, known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), by countries following the Paris Agreement would still see the planet heat to 2.6C by 2100.

Climate change and human rights defenders                         

On average, four land and environmental defenders have been killed every week since the Paris Climate agreement in December 2015.

In 2020, Global Witness documented that 212 people were killed in 2019 for peacefully standing against the destruction of nature. 108 of them, more than half the global total, were killed in Colombia (64), Mexico (18), Honduras (14) and Guatemala (12).

Cognizant of this longstanding issue, the UN Human Rights Council passed this resolution in 2019 that says 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.”

PBI accompaniment

This speaks to many of the defenders Peace Brigades International accompanies.

This includes the Peoples’ Front in Defence of Land and Water (FPDTA) in Mexico that opposes the PIM pipeline megaproject, the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) in Colombia opposed to fracking, the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (UVOC) in Guatemala that has identified “hydroelectric, mining and monocultures” as drivers of climate change, and the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development (CEHPRODEC) that struggles against extractivism, including deforestation.

PBI-Canada upholds the rights of these defenders and works to amplify their struggles both as a protection strategy (given the risks they face) and to build awareness of the structural violence of extractivism that they confront.

Please watch for more details coming soon about our webinar on COP26 and human rights defenders planned for October 26.

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