Copenhagen Diary 4: Climate rights are human rights
Today – 10 December – is Human Rights Day 2009. In a new report marking the day, former UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson argues that:
“The lens of climate justice, incorporating principles of human rights to guide policy and practical responses to climate change, is an essential aspect of climate change policy – at global and national level”.
With millions risking water shortages, forced migration and the disappearance of entire nations beneath rising seas, the ITUC has itself called on the UN to include human and labour rights in the new agreement here at Copenhagen. As they say in the ITUC statement on climate change:
“As trade unions we have never accepted the violation of human rights which consists in allowing fellow human beings to die of hunger or of preventable diseases. We will not accept now that human beings die because of climate change.”
Together with her co-author Alice Miller, Mary cites climate-related human rights violations that will be familiar to members of the ITUC delegation: global biofuels production to cut emissions in the North taking land available for food and increasing food conflicts; the fate of those forced by climate change to cross borders in search of shelter or livelihood; the social and economic vulnerability of many people greatly increasing their risks of suffering from the impacts of climate change.
They challenge, too, the role of the World Bank – its unrepresentative governance and the lack of human rights or pro-poor conditioning in investment portfolios. They call on the UN to lead climate change finance to the South.
The UN (see their Human Rights Day message), of course, has at its disposal a whole range of rights-based international treaties – on the rights of the child, of people with disabilities, of refugees and of migrant workers. Conventions dedicated to the elimination of racial discrimination and discrimination against women. And treaties dealing with labour, health and religion.
Mary argues that “civil society must raise its voice to ensure that states take essential steps to guarantee an open, transparent and participatory process in the new climate change agreement.” She wants the UN mandate here extended to institute a new process bringing human rights framework into play.
In this spirit, we have called for a Just Transition principle at the heart of this new treaty. Today, as the Just Transition Forum meets for the first time in London, our key parts of the Copenhagen negotiating text are re-published, safe for the moment in paragraph 12 of the UN’s latest Shared Vision text, which includes:
“ensuring a just transition for the workforce, which creates decent work and quality jobs, seeking the active participation of all stakeholders, be they governmental, private business or civil society, including the youth, and addressing the need for gender equity”.
Mary is speaking at an ITUC workshop chaired by the TUC’s Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady here in Copenhagen on Wednesday 16th December. The theme is climate solidarity. No doubt we’re set for a hugely important debate about integrating human and labour rights into this most cumbersome but crucial of all UN agreements.