COP26 should recognize that environmental defenders are crucial to solving the climate crisis

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Peace Brigades International accompanied environmental defenders Sandra Calel (Guatemala), Juan Carlos Flores Solis (Mexico), Andrea Regina Pineda (Honduras) and Ivan Madero Vergel (Colombia).

At the United Nations COP21 climate summit in Paris in December 2015, the world committed to pursuing ways to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial revolution levels.

That year, the global increase had reached 1°C for the first time.

Significantly, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the term for carbon emission reductions promised by countries, made at COP21 would likely result in a 3.2°C temperature increase over pre-industrial levels by 2100.

As of this September, following the latest round of NDC submissions, the UN says the world is on the pathway to a 2.7°C increase by the end of the century.

A key objective of the upcoming COP26 summit starting on October 31 is to ramp up ambition on those NDCs to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

In terms of narrowing this ambition gap, Climate Action Tracker noted this month that the NDCs submitted by Canada, Colombia, Mexico and Indonesia are “highly insufficient” and that those submitted by the European Union, Germany, Switzerland and the United States are slightly better but still “insufficient”.

Global Witness has noted: “Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting climate-critical forests and ecosystems. When they take a stand against the theft of their land, or the destruction of forests, they are increasingly being killed.”

It has also highlighted that on average four land and environmental defenders have been killed every week since the Paris Climate agreement in December 2015.

Earlier this month, its ‘Last Line of Defence’ report found that 227 land and environmental defenders had been killed in 2020 for peacefully standing against the destruction of nature. 125 of them, slightly more than half the global total, were killed in Colombia (65), Mexico (30), Honduras (17) and Guatemala (13).

That report warns: “The violence against land and environmental defenders and the climate crisis are intimately connected, and we will not solve one without the other.”

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.”

Most recently, at the opening of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council on September 13, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet said that in many regions environmental human rights defenders were threatened, harassed and killed often with complete impunity and that her office would push for more ambitious, rights-based commitments at the COP26 summit.

Peace Brigades International-Canada is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to acknowledge the dangers faced by land and environmental defenders, both around the world and on Indigenous territories in Canada, and to advocate that their critical role be reflected in the statements and commitments made at the COP26 summit.

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