Por Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

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The impact of climate change on human rights 

Analysis of the European Parliament resolution “The effects of climate change and the role of environmental defenders in this regard”.

The impact of climate change and continued environmental degradation on water resources, ecosystems and livelihoods of local communities are negatively affecting the effective enjoyment of human rights: the right to life; food security, clean water and sanitation; health, housing, work and development. Restrictions and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced transparency and monitoring of human rights violations. They have also intensified political intimidation and digital surveillance, while limiting access to justice and the capacities of environmental defenders, local actors, indigenous communities and others to participate effectively in decision-making processes.

In this context, MEP Soraya Rodríguez has led an ambitious European Parliament report condemning the increase in the number of murders, defamatory attacks, acts of persecution, criminalisation, imprisonment, harassment and intimidation against indigenous peoples, environmental human rights activists and land defenders around the world, and calls for those responsible to be held accountable. The text also calls for support for all human rights defenders, in particular environmental rights defenders and their legal representatives, and to draw attention to their cases when necessary. It also underlines the importance of ensuring that the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples is respected, without coercion, in any development agreement or project that may affect lands, territories or natural assets.

The European Parliament report thus represents an important step forward in the defence of human rights in climate field. It incorporates two key points: first, the recognition of the inexorable link between human rights and climate change. The European Union can also use its external action to achieve an increased recognition of the human right to a healthy environment at the international level. On the other hand, the report also denounces violence against environmental and human rights defenders. Greater efforts are needed to protect environmental and human rights defenders – especially indigenous peoples-  and to ensure accountability and end impunity. Impunity is the biggest driver of human rights violations.

The great achievements of the report

  • Calls on the EU and the Member States to adopt a human rights-based approach to climate action.
  • It calls for the recognition of the right to live in a safe and healthy environment as a human right for all.
  • It encourages the EU and Member States to work on recognising ‘ecocide’ as an international crime under the Rome Statute.
  • Highlights the risks of human rights violations in international commodity supply chains and that mismanagement of land and natural resources is contributing to conflicts, and calls for addressing water scarcity.
  • Calls for gender mainstreaming in sustainable development, trade, cooperation, climate and external action to ensure the rights of women and girls, including SRHRs and their participation in decision-making processes.
  • Calls on the Commission to increase financial and technical assistance to support third countries in integrating human rights into their climate actions and to strengthen the complaint mechanisms of European financial institutions.
  • Calls on the Commission and the Member States to cooperate in the development of an international framework to address climate-induced displacement and migration, as well as to increase support to regions prone to the harmful effects of climate change and displaced persons as a result.
  • Highlights that measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic have been misused to increase violence and pressure against environmental defenders, and calls for the inclusion of environmental rights and the defence of environmental defenders in any response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery plans.
  • Calls to support and protect human rights and environmental defenders, with particular attention to indigenous peoples, women, journalists and whistleblowers, and to fight impunity.
  • Recommends Member States that have not yet done so to ratify ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
  • Calls on the EU not to support projects leading, inter alia, to illegal land grabbing, logging and deforestation; respect the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.
  • Calls on the EU to promote a UN-level initiative to monitor serious environmental damage, serious environmental crises or situations where environmental rights defenders are most at risk.
  • It calls for effective measures to respect human rights when implementing the Paris Agreement and taking climate action.
  • Calls on the Commission to develop eligibility criteria for EU grants that allow environmental NGOs to gain more inclusive access to funds.
  • Calls on the UNFCCC Secretariat (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to develop, together with the parties to the Convention, a common legal framework for climate justice.
  • Calls on Member States to implement measures to, inter alia, prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses, and hold companies accountable.
  • Urges the EU to support the ongoing negotiations for a binding UN treaty on business and human rights to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
  • Underlines the importance of fighting corruption at global level as it undermines the enjoyment of human rights and calls on the Council and the EEAS to include corruption-related crimes among the acts punishable under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, the so-called European Magnitsky Law Regime, to ensure its swift adoption and implementation.

Next steps for the future

The report  is undoubtedly an important step forward in the fight against climate change and the commitment to sustainability at European level. The resolution also paves the way for necessary future breakthroughs such as the need to study the introduction of ‘ecocide’ as an international crime under the Rome Statute. Exploring possible corporate liability for environmental crimes is also an element to be developed. The current global situation also makes it necessary to consider the possibility of legally recognising climate refugees. It might also be interesting to explore the possible recognition of the responsibility of rich industrialised states and the economic growth model for climate change and environmental damage. All in all, the report is not only an important step forward but also gives rise to important reflections that should be taken into account in the future.

REPORT on the effects of climate change on human rights and the role of environmental defenders on this matter

REPORT on the effects of climate change on human rights and the role of environmental defenders on this matter

10-03-2021. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rapporteur: María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos.

Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

Mujeres al frente es un espacio de reflexión dirigido por la política y abogada española Soraya Rodríguez Ramos. Desde 2019, es diputada del Parlamento Europeo en la delegación del partido Ciudadanos. Desde su escaño de eurodiputada, desarrolla un intenso trabajo como Portavoz de Derechos Humanos del grupo Renew Europe, así como por la defensa de la igualdad y derechos de las mujeres como titular de la Comisión de Igualdad, y miembro de la Comisión de Medio Ambiente, por su compromiso con el cuidado del planeta y la justicia climática.