Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Late Thursday evening, just days before the 70th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, States quietly pulled human rights language and obligations from the draft of the text of the Paris rulebook. These last-minute changes were welcome by countries including Brazil, India, China, and the US. Other Parties, such as Mexico, chose to remain silent.
Frantic whispers filled the conference venue Friday morning. Emergency closed-door sessions were called, and impromptu negotiations held in the corridors as the Indigenous Peoples Caucus and other human-rights supporters sought to identify party support. Some constituents wore black to “mourn the death of human rights,” others staged a silent protest in the Climate Action Hub, claiming there had been enough talk, and that it was now time for action.
Most civil society observers (like myself) believe that human rights are a key component for the just and inclusive implementation of the Paris Agreement. The recognition of human rights within the agreement is vital for two reasons. First, climate change and its associated impacts have the potential to undermine human rights to life, food, water, development, and self-determination. Second, any policy of programs designed to mitigate or adapt climate change may adversely affect the rights of the most vulnerable, including the marginalized poor, women, and indigenous peoples, among others. Thus, as Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states, “It is essential that States fully integrate human rights standards and principles in the Paris Rulebook.”
Amidst these crucial rights negotiations, Polish authorities have been accused of human rights violations. The government caught flack earlier this year for banning impromptu demonstrations at COP24 and collecting surveillance data on environmental activists. In an attempt to stifle dissent, fourteen climate activists and civil society leaders have been turned away at the country’s borders.
Despite this crackdown, thousands of COP participants marched through the streets of Katowice Saturday afternoon, demanding fair, immediate, and rights-based climate action.