Climate Change and Human Rights
On 29th May, the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights hosted a round-table discussion on climate change, Rio+20 and human rights in view of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June. Five speakers from the Forum, which is composed of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKSWU), Franciscans International (FI), Indigenous Peoples Ancestral Spiritual Council (CEAPI), International-Lawyers, Nord-Sud XXI, and World Council of Churches (WCC), gave presentations before the floor was opened up for an interactive discussion between all participants.
A major question of the discussion was, considering that human rights are not mentioned in the Principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992, what are the ethical and spiritual values that should be taken into account in Rio+20 and its outcome document ‘The Future We Want’? A common position among many participants was that there was no real tangible impact of Rio 1992 at the grassroots and that, despite the creation of an action plan regarding the Rio Principles, no critical assessment of what has been achieved after twenty years has been carried out.
In his presentation, FI Asia-Pacific Advocacy Officer Budi Tjahjono asserted that the language of the draft outcome document is too limited and that it ignores the crucial human rights dimension of sustainable development. “Now we have a challenge to strengthen the human rights perspective of the outcome document. Member states are the decision makers so the challenge is to convince them of the importance of a human rights-based approach.”
The Forum is most concerned with emphasising the ethical perspective. Climate change is not something to be concerned about in five, ten or fifteen years: its victims are suffering around the world today. It is not simply an environmental or economic issue but one that has cultural and social dimensions which can only be effectively addressed through a holistic approach. Climate change has an impact on human rights. Those who are being affected now are those who are already the most vulnerable, but this will eventually affect all of us.
The Forum has launched a petition for the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights. This is the most effective instrument of the Human Rights Council to really have an impact on people’s lives at the grassroots. An international legal framework to allocate responsibility for the human behaviour that is inducing climate change has not yet been established and until then we must work within the confines of the existing legal structure to address climate change-related issues; victims cannot wait for a new one.