Loss and Damage from Climate Change-A human rights perspective

~graham reeder

While climate change negotiations have stagnated over time due to a lack of political will, many are arguing that the diplomatic approach that the UNFCCC has taken to arriving at agreement—one where treaties and agreements are built out of what parties are willing to contribute or concede—does not do justice to the urgency and potency of the issues at hand. Some lawyers are arguing that a human rights based approach could benefit the process in that it gives the international community increased power to intervene and combat the defence of state’s sovereign rights to act as they wish within their own borders. While the rights based approach is multi-faceted and impact a number of different elements of UNFCCC negotiations, one element of human rights law stands out in terms of informing current climate negotiations: that of addressing liability for impacts, loss, and damage due to climate change.

There are a number of international treaties that elaborate human rights that are threaned by climate change, these rights include the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to housing, the right to food, the right to health, and the right to self-determination; the treaties include the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (MWC). Many of the rights guaranteed in these treaties, particularly the right to life, are not to be interpreted in a restrictive manner; they require positive measures to be taken by states to protect them. The Human Rights Committee noted that states are responsible for preventing acts of mass violence causing arbitrary loss of life, which some have argued could include climate change. Preventing and minimising loss of life from natural disasters and other climate related events is an obligation of states who are parties to the aforementioned conventions.

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Financing Adaptation: Who Will Pay?

[images from BBC]

by Nathan Thanki and Graham Reeder

Given that we’re now experiencing another summer of bizarre weather events, including deadly heat waves, wildfires, and storms in the US, and increased chances of another El Nino year, many in the US are finally opening their eyes to what scientists have been telling them for years: climate change is real, but not only that, it is happening now. Climate change is no longer a theoretical danger, it is a tangible phenomenon that is striking worldwide. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of climate change lies in the fact that it affects first and foremost the world’s most vulnerable people, usually those who have done the least to cause climate change.

Hopefully that knowledge will lead us to conclude that adaptation to climate change is something that should be developed, studied, and supported with finance, technology, and capacity. Depending on the resilience of a community, people will adapt to climate change when driven to in a variety of different ways. This is why it is important to support adaptation proactively, not as a last minute band-aid solution. Building strong and resilient communities that are informed about and prepared for the challenges they will face is the only way to avoid catastrophe when the challenges of climate change hit; this became all too clear in the US during Hurricane Katrina, when careless and underfunded disaster management led to tragedy on a totally unnecessary scale.

From that we should probably conclude that adaptation to climate change is something that should be developed, studied, and supported with finance, technology, and capacity. But if one looks into the history of the concept of adaptation, we see that not everyone has reached such obvious conclusions. Initially it seemed that to prioritise adaptation was 'defeatist' – a sort of acceptance that climate change was happening already which would allow big emitters to say "well hang about, it's already happening and it aint so bad, let's keep going here." For years the fight was meant to be on how to stop these emitters from business as usual: the mitigation battle. It turns out that mitigation can be a money spinner for some, and as the carbon markets and their various complexities were born and grew up into the evil bastard children they now are (just google REDD+ human rights violations for a whole litany of errors), the adaptation element was banished to more obscure corners of academia and activism. There is good work being done on adaptation, but it has largely been done in universities and scientific agencies or with smaller NGOs. The most high profile adaptation planning is done by developed world governments who are investing in their own adaptation planning and implementation, while doing very little at the multilateral level beyond giving encouraging words of support to those doing further research.

In Durban everyone was interested in the Green Climate Fund. One of the big demands from civil society was that this new tool in the already cluttered climate finance toolbox would address the adaptation gap by specifying that at least 50% of funds should be for adaptation projects. Closing the “adaptation gap” has long been a priority of developing countries, and in the discussions surrounding the GCF it was clear that it had become a priority for much of civil society too. For good reason: the report from the GEF to the Conference shows that some $3 billion have been doled out for mitigation projects, compared to a measly $300 million for adaptation.

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Cross post: Rio+20 fails to deliver on Health and Migration issues


-Cross posted from the International Centre for Migration Health and Development (ICMHD) at  http://icmhd.wordpress.com/

Rio+20 fails to deliver on Health and Migration issues


As the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20 or the Earth Summit, wrapped up at the end of last week, responses from experts, media and civil society ranged from lukewarm notes of voluntary commitments made by some countries on the side to outright rejection of the outcome and the conference itself. Overall, world leaders and governments failed to come to a strong agreement that would ensure a safe and just future through a post-2015 sustainable development regime. Instead, they largely spent time hammering out trade agreements and making noncommittal statements about the importance of a broad range of issues.

In terms of migration and health, the Rio outcome document titled “The Future we want”, delivered very little new progress. At the original Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, leaders were committed to developing better modelling and research on migration and the environment, new policies and programmes that would address environmental migrants and displaced people, and stronger capacity to address the needs of environmental migrants. Since then, progress has been mixed, positive examples include the annual Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Migration Group, two organisations that improve data, consolidate information, develop strategies, and encourage best practices on links between migration and development.

However, most of the progress made and research done on migration and development has been from a strictly economic perspective. This prioritises working conditions and remittances, which are important, but fails to see migration for what it is: a cross-cutting issue that needs to be addressed in a wide range of sectors, like health. A cross-sectoral approach to migration would allow for a more comprehensive understanding of all the work that needs to be done to protect this often highly vulnerable group of people.

Health outcomes were little better, Health and Population are at least considered a thematic area in the framework for action and follow-up, but the outcome was weak overall, with fewer than half of the paragraphs using “commit” as operative language, favouring weaker language such as “recognise,” “emphasize,” and “reaffirm.” Thankfully, the text did commit countries to consider population trends, including migration, in development planning, though it neglected the important ties between migration, development, the environment, and health.

Language concerning reproductive health, though present, was not as strong as it should have been, largely due to strong objections by the Vatican, an observer state in the process. In her closing remarks last Friday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said “while I am very pleased that this year’s outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach out goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children. And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.” Reproductive rights are a fundamental precondition for sustainable development, and migrant and refugee women need special consideration as they face their own unique sets of circumstances that strongly influence their reproductive health.

Despite the failure of the world’s governments to come to a robust agreement last week in Rio, important work on all of the issues of sustainable development, including migrant health, is still being done at a range of different levels.

-Graham Reeder


Disagreements and distrust over chairmanship of the Durban Platform

~by Graham Reeder

Last night was an exciting night in the Bonn plenary hall, it was a chance to see the real UN circus at play. There will be two co-chairs for the new Durban Platform on Enhanced Action (ADP), one from a developing country and one from a developed country. The WEOG (Western Europe and Others: all of western Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Turkey) nominated Mr Harald Dovland of Norway as the developed country chair, there have been no other nominations. The developing country chairmanship is a little bit trickier though. The Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) have nominated Mr. Kishan Kumarsingh of Trinidad and Tobago, an AOSIS member who has chaired a number of meetings in the past including the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice. The Asia-Pacific group, however, have proposed Mr Jayant Moreshwar Mauskar of India to chair, the lead Indian negotiator and was the Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). It is clear that there has been major competition between countries on who should be the developing country chair.

The selection of an Indian chair would be a significant move, given that India has been a major player in the ADP negotiations and have been strongly pushing for the centrality of equity to these negotiations. Having an AOSIS member chair could be very different however, and is more in line with EU wishes given the strong influence that they maintain inside some elements of AOSIS. The Asia-Pacific group is taking a strong stance on this issue because it includes many mid-range developing economies that are very concerned about being punished for trying to develop under the new ADP. The chair position is important because chair’s, although expected to be impartial, have a tremendous amount of power in shaping how the process moves forward and who’s inputs end up in the final outcome. An Indian chair could shift the balance of power that has tipped in favour of the richest countries since the UNFCCC was high-jacked just before Copenhagen.

Until there is a chair, the COP presidency (South Africa) will chair the meetings, but because the COP president Mrs. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is now back in South Africa, the VP of the COP, Mr. Robert Van Lierop from Suriname, was chairing the meeting. China raised procedural concerns that Lierop’s chairing the decision of chair represents a conflict of interest because he also represents a GRULAC country and called for him to step down. As far as I’ve heard, this kind of move is unprecedented at the UNFCCC, but China is very concerned that he is also conducting the informal consultations on who the chair should be, which would be highly problematic. After two hours of back and forth fighting, Gambia for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) proposed a way forward. The proposal was to have the COP presidency continue to hold consultations about the chair while the meeting itself could continue with it’s work under the presidency’s chairing with the end of next week as a hard deadline for the chair decision. Parties agreed to that decision, and the meeting just resumed with a new representative for the COP presidency (this time from South Africa) chairing the meeting. Hopefully the group can adopt a solid agenda that includes all of the elements of the Durban agreement (mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, capacity building, and finance).