- As the Peoples’ Summit on Climate, Rights and Human Survival convened in New York last weekend, leaders had a call to action for attendees: bring solutions.
- The climate justice movement meeting brought human rights and climate leaders together for one of the most prominent such gathering to date.
- The meetings came amid debates over aggressively gutted environmental safeguards by the US, including its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
The UN special envoy for this year’s climate summit, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, opened the September 19-20 Peoples’ Summit on Climate, Rights and Human Survival with an admonition for nations the coming week: “This will not be a traditional summit.” The time for addressing linkages between climate and human rights has passed, de Alba said and concentration should shift to individual and collective action.
The meeting integrating human rights and climate leaders was the most prominent and clearest representation of the climate justice movement to date. According to Amnesty International, one of the event’s organizers, the meeting aimed to galvanize the human rights community to urgently scale-up its efforts on climate justice, creating the most diverse movement ever assembled to tackle the climate crisis.
The gathering preceded this week’s Climate Action Summit at UN headquarters in New York City, where leaders from approximately 60 nations are gathered to form a plan of action to address the climate emergency.
The UN secretary general wants ambitious new commitments at the pace and scale required to significantly reduce emissions. The climate justice group made clear that generalized rhetoric is no longer welcome.
“There needs to be a multi-front response to the emergency of climate change,” said Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “[That] includes legal strategies that the various communities can bring, social and political strategies that includes looking at aspects of economic decisions that have led us to where we are now, and the full spectrum of tactics that goes from action in court to action to civil disobedience in the streets, because that’s where we are in terms of crisis.”
The earth’s rapid warming as a result of humankind’s activities has created what panelist and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, described as a “climate apartheid,” where the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis are borne by colored populations.
“When you tell people there’s a leak in the boat, they’ll believe you when they’re up to their knees in water,” said Mokhiber on the importance of bringing together the voices of those who have already been dramatically affected and those who will be without meaningful immediate action. “That’s where we are now.”
Much of what has been done to address the climate crisis thus far has been described as “rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic.” As world leaders gathered in New York this month, he puts special blame on the US. “Worse than that,” Mokhiber said, “the US is buttressing the iceberg.”
President Donald Trump, who made a surprise 14-minute appearance on the opening day of the climate summit before departing for a meeting on religious freedom, has aggressively gutted environmental safeguards since taking office and is leading the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. According to human rights leaders, such negligence might constitute a human rights violation.
Jennifer Morgan is the executive director of Greenpeace International. “While we all recognize [climate and human rights] linkages, and they are more and more prevalent every single day, I don’t believe that corporations and states have truly understood that their lack of action on climate change is a violation of their human rights obligations.”
Kumi Naidoo is the current Secretary-General of Amnesty International. “I just have one message to the leadership of the fossil fuel companies of the world,” Naidoo said. “They need to understand that we are now going to be using the full weight of human rights law. They need to understand that any decision they make now to invest one cent more in new fossil fuel projects is an investment in the death of our children and their children.”
A number of countries have not been selected to speak at the climate summit, including coal-supporting nations like Japan and South Africa. According to Financial Times, also excluded will be the US, as well as Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
The energy in New York was undeniably positive as the imperative for action seems to be gaining traction, if just in the public’s consciousness.
Ellen Dorsey is the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, a private foundation focused on progressive social change in the fields of environment, democracy, human rights and corporate accountability. “The real measure of success of this summit is that it unleashes the process where we have built such power and collaborative action so strong and so clear that the fossil fuel companies will tender plans consistent with a 1.5-degree world,” Dorsey said.
What does that mean for corporations and governments?
“That means they must wind down or fundamentally transform themselves and they must stop their capital expenditures now – no new fossil fuels,” said Dorsey, whose organization seeks to put the rights of people at the center of climate solutions. “We will ensure that as we move into the new energy economy that it is a rights-respecting economy and the solutions out people not profit at the center and that the renewable energy companies themselves are held accountable to human rights as well as environmental standards. That power is building and it is time that we show that power in very clear ways.”
At the end of the first day of the Climate Action Summit, Nemonte Nenquimo, of the Waorani Nation in Ecuador and one of the founding members of the indigenous organization Ceibo Alliance, delivered a rousing speech at an indigenous community event hosted by the Ford Foundation. “We must respect the right to live well, to conserve air, water, and land,” she said. “This is my fight. Not just for my country, for the indigenous, this work is for the world. This is a fight for all.”
Lavetanalagi Seru is a co-founder of the Alliance for Future Generations, a youth-led voluntary organization working for education and climate justice, who traveled from Fiji. “There is very little time left now for systems change,” Seru urged in his closing remarks to last week’s indigenous peoples’ summit.
“Let us use our moral voice to call on our governments to take ambitious climate action, demanding corporate accountability and also by playing our part in the current unsustainable consumption, production and distribution patterns. Let us rise to the challenge this planet seeks of us––or we shall all be judged for our inaction by a jury that is yet to be born.”
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 outlets worldwide to strengthen coverage of the climate story.