What language should be included in the COP28 statement to better protect environmental human rights defenders?
The United Nations COP28 climate change conference will take place from November 30 to December 12, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
It is expected that a “global stocktake” will take place at COP28. This will be the first assessment since the promises made at COP21 in Paris in 2015.
Last month, Global Witness highlighted:
“Environmental defenders who aim to stop this destruction bear the brunt of our changing climate and corporate abuses. Our latest report on defenders found that at least 1,910 land and environmental defenders globally have lost their lives since we started documenting killings in 2012 – an average of one person killed every two days. Of these, at least 1,390 defenders have been killed since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.”
Global Witness has also stated that Parties should:
“-Recognize the link between the climate crisis and growing violence and repression against land and environmental defenders and take meaningful steps to protect defenders and civic space (online and in person) to promote ambition and climate action.
-Hold a Dialogue under UNFCCC on Environmental Human rights defenders, including Indigenous peoples and frontline communities, to identify and address the obstacles that defenders face when trying to exercise their rights to access information, public participation, and education.”
Furthermore, the Human Rights & Climate Change Working Group included in their submission on Elements for a Global Stocktake Decision that Enhances Human Rights-based Climate Action this draft language that could be endorsed by the Conference of Parties:
“Urging all Parties to commit to the enhanced protection of environmental human rights defenders, including reporting, investigating and seeking accountability and redress for reprisals against environmental human rights defenders, and public information about the actions taken to do so as well as public recognition of the importance of their work.”
This is consistent with the UN Human Rights Council statement from 2019 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” to limit global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Prior to COP27, EarthRights International, Global Witness, Natural Justice, Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA), CIVICUS, and the International Land Coalition released a set of recommendations calling on those at COP27 to take meaningful steps to protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
At that time, Silvana Baldovino of SPDA said: “A higher recognition and incorporation by the UNFCCC and COP27 of the role of defenders in facing the climate crisis is crucial to move States towards stronger protection schemes.”
Amnesty International also called on all parties at COP27 to: “Ensure the action plan recognizes the role of environmental human rights defenders in promoting effective and ambitious climate action and includes concrete measures to protect them in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.”
And UN Special Rapporteur Ian Fry recommended “establishing an international tribunal for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against and the killing of environmental and indigenous human rights defenders and enhanced participatory processes at future COP conferences as well as the General Assembly.”
Even prior to this, Fridays for Future ahead of the COP26 summit in October-November 2021 in Scotland called on world leaders to: “Stop the violence and criminalization against indigenous peoples, small farmers, small fisherfolk, and other environmental and land defenders. Support the work they do. Respect and listen to our defenders.”
And in September 2021, the Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice in their “solutions from the frontlines” called “on all governments to respect the right of freedom of expression and peaceful protest, and to immediately halt the criminalization of land defenders, whose efforts are central to a climate-just world.”
Why have we not seen progress on this?
We will be asking defenders and leading advocates about the status of this call at COP28, why the COP summits to date have failed to include this language, and what needs to be done to both get this language included and for real protections to be implemented.
Stay tuned for more details!