Responding to Doha on Human Rights Day

10 December, 2012

“Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It’s about human rights too” is the message that EJF wants everyone to remember today.

Climate negotiations in Doha may have resulted in a small victory for developing countries through the pledge of loss and damage funds, but they have again demonstrated a fundamental lack of ambition by political leaders.In response, this Human Rights Day (December 10th), the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has joined with MEPs Jean Lambert and Ska Keller and actress and long-term EJF supporter Ashley Jensen to call on world leaders to address climate change, not just as an environmental issue but as one of the greatest threats to human rights.

This appeal comes as EJF releases its latest report, A Nation Under Threat, alongside a special short film to mark the day, that explores how climate change has become one of the major challenges to the enjoyment of the basic rights to life, food, health, water, housing and self-determination.

Through an in-field investigation and collaborations with local partners, EJF has documented how worsening extreme weather events and the gradual but sustained deterioration in environmental security in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries, Bangladesh, has been responsible for significant damage to vital infrastructure, widespread devastation to housing stock, reduced access to fresh water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation, and increased poverty and hunger.

Watch EJF’s short film for Human Right Day featuring Ashley Jensen:



“I think the whole thing with climate change is that 20 years ago it seemed like a sort of slightly intangible thing, where people didn’t really understand it and kind of ignored it. But now we are actually seeing the effects of what is happening, and I think people are beginning to understand it all a bit more and are kind of being forced to take action and think about it. I’m an actress, and a mum, and I’m supporting the Environmental Justice Foundation’s campaign because I feel, as an adult, I feel that I have a responsibility to future generations.” – Ashley Jensen, actress and EJF supporter

Key findings of the report include:

  • Recovery after major natural disasters is alarmingly slow, with rural areas continuing to face a sustained level of food insecurity and high unemployment 18 months after a disaster has occurred.
  • Saltwater intrusion into open water sources has become the single most important human rights and developmental challenge for some rural communities, threatening access to safe drinking water, sanitation and water for irrigation.
  • Increasingly erratic rainfall and temperatures are reducing crop yields or causing crops to fail, putting intolerable pressure on subsistence livelihoods.
  • Social inequalities, particularly in terms of access to important life skills such as the ability to swim, have a significant and direct impact on vulnerability to climate change and the numbers of fatalities caused by climate disasters, with women, children, the elderly and the disabled most at risk.
  • Climate hazards, notably flooding and storms, and the gradual decline in environmental security have become major driving factors displacing people from their homes in rural south-west Bangladesh and pushing them into the country’s major urban areas – particularly to Khulna, the country’s third largest city – where many of these climate refugees end up in slums.

Over the past four years, the United Nations Human Rights Council has passed three resolutions which recognise that climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has adverse implications for the full enjoyment of human rights. Despite this, however, EJF argues that international negotiations on climate change have so far failed to adequately address the humanitarian and human rights impacts of climate change.

This Human Rights Day, EJF and Ashley Jensen are appealing to everyone to mark Human Rights Day 2012 by supporting their call to action to the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights, which would adopt and encourage a rights-based approach to climate change.

Steve Trent, EJF's Executive Director, said:

“Doha seems to have come up with a formal acknowledgement from the USA and other developed nations that there will be a bill to pay for the havoc that will come from climate change and they will have to pick up at least some of tab. But crucially, the talks have not shown the political leadership and ambition we need - they have failed to create a path from recognising the causes and costs of climate change to delivering the funds and the action to solve these. Our collective failures on climate change have critical impacts on food security, health and well-being, the fundamental tenets of shared international commitments on human rights, and we aren’t doing enough. Climate refugees forced from their homes by environmental insecurity don’t even have any form of legal recognition or protection. This Human Rights Day we need to remember that we can and should look to human rights frameworks to identify ‘at risk’ areas and populations and guide us in how we respond to climate change.”

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London and Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation to South Asia, said:

"The deaths, injuries, displacement and poverty that climate change is already causing can, and should, be viewed as fundamental breaches of human rights requiring urgent global action. That’s certainly how many less-developed countries see it. I often meet ambassadors and representatives of small, developing nations, who argue that the impact of climate change is the most significant threat their people face, and that the richer nations shouldn’t just act to prevent it, they should compensate those nations that have already seen their citizens’ human rights violated. But it is not viewed, officially, as a human rights problem. If it was, that could change the international political debate, speeding up progress toward reducing emissions and properly funding the adaptation measures.",

Read Jean Lambert MEP's full statement on Human Rights Day

Watch MEP Ska Keller's filmed message for Human Rights Day:

Take action this Human Rights Day

1. Campaign with EJF: Sign the petition

2. Support the campaign and donate via the Big Give Christmas Challenge

3. Join the discussion on Facebook (facebook.com/ejfoundation)

4. Download the report, A Nation Under Threat

5. Hear why Human Rights Day is important

Press

Download the press release

High quality photographs available on request.

Media contacts:  Alexandra.Sedgwick@ejfoundation.org / +44(0)207 239 3310