Thursday, November 9, 2017
By Prof. Lauren Carasik
Syria’s announcement this week that it will join the Paris Agreement leaves the US standing alone in opposing the landmark pact to curb climate change. Nicaragua signed the accord last month after initially objecting that it did not go far enough. As Paula Caballero, director of the climate change program at the World Resources Institute said, “The U.S.’s stark isolation should give Trump reason to reconsider his ill-advised announcement and join the rest of the world in tackling climate change.” Devastating wildfires and hurricanes linked to climate change did not appear to move the president to revisit his position, as he continues to gut environmental regulations.
Given Trump’s intransigent climate change denial, some observers were surprised that his administration did not attempt to block the release of a report that concludes that the global climate change is being primarily driven by human activities. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report finds. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” The White House did, however, attempt to downplay the report’s findings.
As the Trump administration continues to embrace regressive environmental policies and ignore their staggering impact, the UN Climate Conference COP-23 meets in Bonn from November 6-17 to move forward on global efforts. For that process, five UN experts have urged the centrality of human rights in the implementation of the accord, saying “The needs of the most vulnerable must always be at the forefront as climate finance and adaptation, prevention and resilience measures are decided. The world must also meet its obligations to cooperate across borders and to mobilize all available resources to progressively realize economic, social and cultural rights, and to advance civil and political rights and the right to development.” The conference is hosting a robust set of workshops exploring the connection between climate change and human rights.
The focus on State responsibility to address climate change is emerging elsewhere as well. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern last month that the governments of Germany and Argentina are failing to satisfy their obligations to adopt energy policies that adequately prevent climate change under the ICESCR. “The concerns raised by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights regarding the energy policies of Germany and Argentina highlight that the governments can no longer ignore the adverse impacts of fossil fuels on the climate and human rights – both locally and globally,” said Sebastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law. “The CESCR makes clear that the states have an obligation under UN human rights agreements to prevent and reduce additional emissions of greenhouse gases generated by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels,” he added
Meanwhile, advocates are expanding international climate litigation following a landmark 2015 decision in the Netherlands ordering the government to cut emissions by 25 percent over five years. Most recently in the US, the Clean Air Council and two children from Pennsylvania filed suit against the Trump administration on November 6. “The federal government has relied on junk science to implement reckless climate change policies in the face of indisputable U.S. and international scientific consensus,” the Clean Air Council said in a press statement. “These acts of deliberate indifference are increasing U.S. contributions to climate change, thereby increasing the frequency and intensity of its life-threatening effects, and violating the constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens.” The case follows the lead of 21 young plaintiffs who sued the Obama administration in August, 2015 on a broader theory. Meg Ward, a spokesperson for Our Children’s Trust, the organization behind the Juliana v. U.S. case, said that “case challenges not just the Trump Administration’s ongoing illegal actions, but also the collective unconstitutional acts of prior administrations that have created the climate danger our youth plaintiffs face today.” That case was temporarily paused by the Ninth Circuit while it considers the lower court decision allowing the case to go forward.
Urgent action is needed, as climate change is already exacerbating the global refugee crisis. “We are the first generation who can choose to be the last. We are the first generation whose actions can also destroy the planets ecosystems for future generations,” said Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, last month. “Global indifference has poisoned our planet and only global commit can preserve it. Failure to act now to address climate change and its impacts and protect the human rights of all migrants, irrespective of the cause of their movement, will amplify human suffering which we simply cannot permit.”
Please visit Open Global Rights for a series of posts on climate change and human rights.