Friday, December 7, 2018

Are human rights being included in Paris Agreement rulebook at COP24?

Civil society organisations fought hard at the United Nations Climate Change conference COP21 in Paris in 2015 for human rights obligations to be included as part of the Paris Agreement text. This was an important recognition of social justice in addressing climate change.

However, it appears there has been little mention or discussion of inclusion of human rights obligations in negotiations this week in Katowice, Poland at the current United Nations climate change conference, COP24. Time is fast closing and final draft texts are nearing completion before the ministerial meetings of the Conference of Parties takes place early next week.

It is highly important that human rights obligations are included in relevant portions of the Paris Agreement rulebook presently being negotiated.

Mandate holders associated with the United Nations Office for Human Rights have issued a statement calling for integration of human rights standards and principles in the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

"The impacts of climate change are already interfering with a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, housing, water, development and freedom of movement – as massive population displacement is increasingly triggered, often in the form of forced displacement, which may lead to increased vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons – as well as the right to a healthy and sustainable environment." says the statement.

Also, "The responses taken to address climate change and its impacts (mitigation and adaptation measures) may also threaten the enjoyment of human rights. For example, when such measures are developed and implemented without the full and effective participation or consent of those concerned, they may result in human rights violations and/or unsustainable outcomes."

As human rights experts they urge States attending COP24 to "rapidly deploy effective actions capable of achieving the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement."

The Human rights obligation enshrined in the Paris Agreement (PDF) Preamble reads as follows:

Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.

As part of human rights and social justice, Just Transition was also included in the preamble of the Paris Agreement as "Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities,"

Update: Members of Civil Society NGOs gathered this morning in Katowice voicing their stong concern about lack of inclusion and integration of human rights in the climate negotiations for the Paris Rulebook.

Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration

Just Transition is very much a part of human rights obligations and equity and at the start of the climate conference the COP presidency put forward a proposal for a Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, with Representatives of 45 states adopting the Declaration by acclamation, including the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and Fiji.

- There is a reason why ‘Changing Together’ is the theme of this year’s climate summit. History shows us that by acting together, in the spirit of solidarity, we can achieve impossible things. I hope that the declaration on just transition, which we have adopted today, will inspire all the conference’s participants to search for best solutions for both - our climate as well as global community - stressed Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Australia has yet to sign the declaration.

The list of countries supporting the Declaration remains open and it is still possible to join it. Will Australian Environment Minister Melissa Price, as head of delegation, step up and sign the declaration for a Just Transition?

Civil Society Skepticism of Poland's motives with Just Transition

The Civil Society NGO Bankwatch, in a statement, called Poland’s Just Transition declaration a "fata morgana".

“This Declaration is in clear contradiction with the basic position of the Polish ruling party on the future of the energy sector: over-reliance on coal for decades to come,” says Bankwatch’s Just Transition coordinator Alexandru Mustață.

“The timing is right for the start of a Just Transition in Polish coal regions: the country’s low unemployment and shortage of labour present a good macroeconomic window of opportunity to smoothly transition a large workforce to other sectors,” says Izabela Zygmunt, Bankwatch’s national coordinator for Poland. “If Poland misses this opportunity now, it may face another wave of painful, unmanaged mine closures like it did in the 1990s.”

“As world leaders sign the Silesia Declaration on Solidarity and Just Transition in Katowice, they should insist that Poland, which proposed this declaration in the first place, now take it seriously,” she adds.

The Climate Action Network was very sceptical about the declaration pointing out Poland's continued subsidisation of new coal in an article in the COP24 newsletter, ECO.

"It is hard not to read this declaration as a crowd pleaser without any intention to follow through with actions. Over the years, Polish governments have been systematically taking decisions that contradict their self-declared commitment to a greener energy future.

"Examples abound. In the Polish draft energy policy published just ahead of COP24, coal still counts for 60% of the national energy mix in 2030. Moreover, the government recently announced the construction of a new coal power plant in Ostrołęka by the state-owned energy company ENEA, despite the protest of ENEA’s labour union which demanded skipping investing in coal and going for renewables instead.

"In the nearby town of Imielin, the local community has protested against a new hard coal mine, while the vast majority of Poles want a coal phase out and a transition to renewable energy. The Polish government is planning to proceed with the construction of new open-cast lignite mines, despite strong opposition by local communities and their mayors. The government has also failed to develop any concrete proposal to support the miners and the communities affected by the energy transition." argues this important civil society observer group.

Climate Action Network argue the declaration needs to be improved by:
  • Support for the 1.5C goal;
  • consider all affected communities;
  • cover every high carbon sector of the economy;
  • be properly resourced e.g. via redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to enable Just Transition strategies and social programs;
  • be geographically targeted and connected to regional development planning because the new job opportunities, e.g. in the renewables sector, are not always created where the old heavy industries jobs are phased-out, and;
  • be based on social programs; with new investments being made before closures happen.

Skepticism of the Government motive is also highlighted by the joint statement on the sidelines of COP24 by the Polish trade Union Solidarity and the scientific denialism based Heartland Institute which expressed “skepticism of the assertions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the world stands at the edge of a climate catastrophe”, reported Climate Home News in the article: Polish trade union Solidarity rejects climate science consensus.

In a press conference media release on 5th December, Lucile Dufour, International Policy and Development Adviser, Climate Action Network, France highlighted the importance of a genuinely fair transition from fossil fuels to renewables:

“Just transition and ambition are the two sides of the same coin. While countries need to respond to the latest available science and scale up their NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) by 2020, maintaining global warming to 1.5C degrees will only be possible if the conditions are met to take everyone on board in a just and fair manner.”

Dufour highlighted that citizens around the world are demanding climate action and a step up in climate action, but it is governments that are failing to respond to people’s asks by implementing a transition that does not address social challenges, reduce inequalities and advance climate action at the same time.

“Recent developments in France are just one example on how not taking into consideration just transition can hinder the effectiveness of climate action,” Dufour said.

The French government under President Macron decided to freeze the fossil fuel taxes for the next six months. Dufour argued that this will hinder France’s ability to step up its climate ambition.

“By doing so the French government fails to respond to the social crisis but also fails to implement climate action that is socially acceptable. Fossil fuel taxes are key to accelerate climate action, we call on French government to learn from its mistakes” Dufour said.

International Trade Union Confederation supports Silesia Just Transition Declaration

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, said in a media statement: “Unions want decent jobs on a living planet. Building trust through the guarantees of Just Transition measures will make it possible for governments to raise ambition. We need all governments to get behind this declaration so we leave no one behind.”

“This declaration means that workers and their unions will have a seat at the negotiating table and workers’ voices will be heard when climate policies are developed and implemented. Good social dialogue processes are a crucial factor to make the changes to industries, sectors and national economies that will stop dangerous climate change and unleash a 65 million low-carbon jobs dividend by 2030,” said Sharan Burrow.

“In 2015, unions successfully had Just Transition recognised in the Paris Agreement. Now it’s time for COP24 to put these into practice in the Paris Rulebook and create decent jobs on a living planet,” said Sharan Burrow.

Morrison Government criticised for not joining Silesia Just Transition Declaration

Australian Shadow spokesperson for Climate and Energy, Labor's Mark Butler MP, articulated in a statement that the Morrison Government has failed to step up and sign Polish Presidency Just Transition declaration. It follows on from the Turnbull Government fighting against inclusion of a Just Transition clause in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

"The fact the Morrison Government can’t support the Silesia Declaration is just the latest evidence the Liberal’s anti-worker agenda extends from penalty rates and attacks on workers’ rights, all the way to denying workers support as the economy inevitably transitions to clean energy." said Butler.

" Australia must have a plan to help workers and communities respond to inevitable future closures of ageing coal power stations. That’s why Labor has announced a detailed Just Transition plan, including the establishment of a new Just Transition Authority and support for pooled redundancy and redeployment schemes, as well as local economic diversification." concluded Mark Butler.

The Electrical Trades Union endorsed Butler's criticism and Labor's policy to establish a Just Transition Authority if elected at the next Federal election in a media statement.

Electrical Trades Union National Policy Officer Trevor Gauld articulated that it was embarrassing for Australia, because the Liberal Party infighting keeps killing every attempt at basic energy policies.

“Liberal Party chaos and the Morrison Government’s lack of a national energy policy has now spilled into the international arena,” Mr Gauld said. “The Liberal and National Party dinosaurs are maintaining their addiction to high polluting, higher cost industries while the rest of the world is getting on with implementing plans for the inevitable transition to renewable energy sources.

“The Morrison Government pretends to be a leader in the Pacific region but in reality, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is showing how a leader acts when they are truly concerned about the damage the changing climate will have on our neighbours.

“Even the UK’s Tory leader Theresa May has signed on to this accord, which shows it’s not a matter of left or right politics but something humanity can and must deal with together.”

“Australian workers want a government that is prepared to face up to the reality of climate change and one that will implement a Just Transition for coal reliant communities instead of leaving them on the scrap heap. It’s time to put jobs, the economy and the planet above party politics.”

ACTU Assistant Secretary Scott Connolly said “We need to change the rules for workers facing an uncertain future in the energy sector. We can ensure that there will be jobs in the future for these workers but the Morrison Government is to captive to the radicals in its ranks to help Australian workers.”

Read the full statement by mandate holders associated with the UN Office for Human Rights below:

Joint statement of the United Nations Special Procedures Mandate Holders on the occasion of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC

Climate Change and Human Rights

6 December 2018 - As independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council*, we call on States to fully integrate human rights standards and principles in the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change (the Paris Rulebook). In a significant breakthrough, in 2015, Parties to the Paris Agreement recognized the need to integrate their human rights obligations and their efforts to address climate change, pledging to respect and protect human rights in all climate actions. Now, as the Parties meet in Katowice, Poland for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (3 to 14 December 2018), they must take the necessary steps to operationalize their human rights obligations as they finalize the Paris Rulebook.

Climate change is one of today’s greatest threats to human rights, as illustrated in the recently released Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which describes the ways in which climate change is transforming life on earth and adversely impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. The IPCC concluded that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed to prevent catastrophic climate impacts. Unfortunately, the existing commitments of State Parties to the Paris Agreement—through their nationally determined contributions—put the world heading for 3°C of warming.

The impacts of climate change are already interfering with a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, housing, water, development and freedom of movement – as massive population displacement is increasingly triggered, often in the form of forced displacement, which may lead to increased vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons – as well as the right to a healthy and sustainable environment. The responses taken to address climate change and its impacts (mitigation and adaptation measures) may also threaten the enjoyment of human rights. For example, when such measures are developed and implemented without the full and effective participation or consent of those concerned, they may result in human rights violations and/or unsustainable outcomes.

For these reasons, as human rights experts we urge States to rapidly deploy effective actions capable of achieving the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement. As we have stated previously, and as recognized in the Paris Agreement, States must ensure that all actions taken to address climate change are in full accordance with their human rights obligations (Human Rights Obligations and climate, 2014 PDF, Climate Change and Human Rights 2014, Climate Change and Human Rights, 2015). Such obligations not only help to prevent or minimize harm but also “have the potential to inform and strengthen international and national policy making in the area of climate change, promoting policy coherence, legitimacy and sustainable outcomes(Human Rights Council resolution 10/4 (25 March 2009), preamb. para. 10).”

As we look ahead to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 2018, the Special Procedures mandate holders continue to lend support to all those involved in integrating human rights into climate actions. We further call on States:

  • to commit to urgently increase their ambition, given the grave nature of the climate crisis and the pressing need for scaled-up mitigation efforts;
  • to adopt without delay a comprehensive set of guidelines and modalities that ensures the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. These should reflect States’ obligations under international human rights law, as acknowledged in the Paris Agreement, in particular the need for rights-based, participatory and gender-responsive climate action that promotes a just transition and food security for all. Parties must ensure that these principles are fully integrated into the guidelines and modalities for: nationally determined contributions, adaptation communications, the Enhanced Transparency Framework, and Article 6 mechanisms, among others;
  • to operationalize the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform as a means to ensure that indigenous perspectives and knowledge are adequately considered in developing and implementing climate change policies and actions;
  • to support the COP24 Presidency’s proposal for a Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, which reaffirms the commitment made in Paris to promote a just transition of the workforce and recognizes the importance of participatory and representative social dialogue;
  • to encourage businesses to integrate climate change considerations in their policies and practices, including their human rights due diligence processes and impact assessments; and
  • to ensure full and effective participation, access to information and transparency in the formal negotiations as well as in the public spaces where actors from civil society can gather and exercise their rights to freedom of expression and opinion, association and peaceful assembly. Meaningful and effective participation of a wide-range of actors in decision-making processes is critical to successful outcomes.
    The outcomes of COP 24 are fundamentally important to the future of humanity. Decisions made and actions taken by States must demonstrate unprecedented boldness in order to effectively address the monumental challenges of climate change while simultaneously respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights.

Photos: by John Englart from UN Climate Change Conference COP21, Paris, 2015 (From COP21 Paris climate talks Flickr album)

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