Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change is the need of the hour

The 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council begins today. Now is the right time to call for a new mandate: the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change.

In September 2020, we joined more than 1,000 civil society organisations, indigenous people, social movements and local communities in calling on the UN Human Rights Council to recognise the universal human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. In the coming days and weeks, the Human Rights Council will have the opportunity to take a step in this direction by establishing the mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change.

Echoing a decade-old demand by the civil society, the Marshall Islands – on behalf of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) – first called for this mandate in 2019. This demand was then repeated several times, including by Bangladesh in its capacity as the new chair of the CVF, and other states that are among the most affected countries by the climate crisis. As a result, the demand for the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change has gained broader support.

While this call initially came exclusively from the Global South, a growing number of the so-called developed countries have supported the initiative in recent months. In October 2020, Australia, New Zealand and the French-administered Pacific territories joined the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Foreign Ministers’ outcome to create this new mandate. In March 2021, during the 46th session of the Human Rights Council, Bangladesh subsequently issued a joint statement calling on Council members to consider the creation of this mandate.

The statement was supported by 57 states: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eswatini, Fiji, France, Germany, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Oman, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, The Bahamas, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Yemen.

The fact that five Western European states (France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland) and three Eastern European states (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia) have joined this declaration signals their support for the initiative and their willingness to participate in discussions on the scope of the mandate.

In addition, numerous civil society organisations are working together to create the mandate. In this context, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Franciscans International and the Geneva office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) have held a series of consultations with regional civil society organisations and indigenous people to identify the key elements that will at the core of the new mandate.

What is the Human Rights Council?

The Human Rights Council is the United Nations body responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights worldwide. It meets at least three times a year in Geneva to discuss thematic human rights issues and country situations that require its attention.

Climate change threatens the realisation of all human rights, with negative impacts felt worldwide. Since 2008, the Council has been addressing the negative human rights impacts of climate change. However, despite the urgency of the climate crisis, the Council has so far failed to clarify legal obligations of states and effectively support states and affected communities.

There are currently 38 Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council.

Solidarity matters

We at WECF fully support the initiative of the Climate Vulnerable Forum. There is an urgent need for the Human Rights Council to strengthen its role in addressing the climate crisis, to advance respect for and protection of human rights in all climate responses and to ensure access to justice.

We demand that the voices of those most affected by climate change be heard. We demand climate justice.

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CIEL Publication; A UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights & Climate Change? Regional Perspectives (EN, FR, ES)

Photo Credits: John Merin