The call for a UN Special Rapporteur

Numerous states and organizations are calling for the creation of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights.

Among the many organizations who signed an open letter this summer calling for the creation of this position is the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR), which is accompanied by the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), which is comprised of 48 nations including Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras, is also backing this motion.

Supporters highlight: “The UN Human Rights Council, currently in session, could take this decision now. This is precisely what the CVF has called for in its manifesto for Cop26. By doing so, the Council would demonstrate that UN bodies can take decisive climate measures, a much-needed positive impulse for the Glasgow summit.”

Reuters reports: “The potential new post is expected to be deliberated at the ongoing Sept. 13-Oct. 8 session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, as one of two new resolutions related to the environment, according to diplomats.”

That article adds: “A UN official said the exact role would depend on the final text establishing the position – but noted climate change will threaten a broad range of human rights.”

Human rights defenders killed since COP21

On average, four land and environmental defenders have been killed every week since the COP21 summit in Paris in December 2015.

Global Witness has also documented that 212 people were killed in 2019 for peacefully standing against the destruction of nature. 108 of them, more than half the global total, were killed in Colombia (64), Mexico (18), Honduras (14) and Guatemala (12).

Cognizant of this longstanding issue, the UN Human Rights Council passed a 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.”

The Paris Agreement reached at COP21 pledged to hold global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, the scientifically-advised limit of safety, with an aspiration not to breach 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Forest defenders at risk

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported: “[The COP26 climate summit] will not produce the breakthrough needed to fulfil the aspiration of the Paris agreement, key players in the talks have conceded.”

But, according to the article, “The UK, charged as host with delivering a successful outcome, is hoping that progress will be made on other issues, including phasing out coal, providing climate finance to poor countries, and improving the protection of forests.”

Global Witness has highlighted: “In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development.”

They add: “Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.”

This suggests the importance of including provisions reflecting the need to protect forest defenders in the Glasgow Agreement.

Access to COP26, PBI webinar

This week, the CBC also reported: “There are ongoing concerns that the persistence of COVID-19 and the U.K.’s strict border measures will limit the participation at COP26 of many advocacy groups who claim they are already shut out of the formal talks.”

Given this, Peace Brigades International is organizing a webinar on Saturday, November 6 to help highlight the relationship between human rights and climate change. Meetings between foreign ministers and human rights defenders are also being organized.

The COP26 climate summit starts on October 31.

The climate crisis is a crisis of human rights.