Human Rights and Climate Action: RWI’s Reflection from COP28

By: Nikita Lourenço Calling, Danang Aditya Nizar, Windi Arini, Matthew Scott,

As COP28 unfolded, it became evident that the pursuit of climate action is intrinsically linked with the fundamental principles of human rights. The two week-long discussions, spanning topics from indigenous rights to corporate responsibility, painted a comprehensive picture of the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of climate change and human rights.

COP28 started with a bang! The adoption of the hard-fought Loss and Damage fund was a welcomed decision. However, as observed by rights advocates, the Fund was adopted without due respect to human rights, lacking representation for subjugated groups. A fervent call from developing countries – state and non-state actors – to recognize the fund as historical reparation, not merely aid or loan. Pledges to the fund fall woefully short, inadequately addressing the losses & damages already suffered by developing nations.

RWI contributed to COP28 bringing the much-needed human rights perspective in climate discussions. The RWI delegation consisted of Dr. Matthew Scott, Windi Arini, Danang Nizar, and Nikita Lourenco Calling.

In a session at the Thai Pavilion, RWI explored “Slow-Onset Disaster & Mobility Risks from a Human Rights Perspective” on 4 Dec 2023. The diverse panel from RWI, OHCHR, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, and journalist delved into the complexities of human mobility, emphasizing the need for comprehensive policies. As we address the changing climate and its challenges, the need to minimize migration risks becomes paramount. Key points were:

  • Governments are making strides, but slow-onset challenges need more focus, particularly related to data collection and risk modelling.
  • Critical impact of legal recognition and protection for vulnerable communities, urging an increase in government capacity.
  • Unintended consequences of climate strategies can exacerbate vulnerabilities, seen in Mexico’s dangers for Indigenous Peoples.
  • With two-thirds of Indigenous Peoples in Asia, it was noted that many National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the region lack a human rights perspective.
  • Actionable takeaways: Increase visibility for all communities, foster dialogue, and rethink development models to protect biodiversity. Urged the inclusion of Human Rights-Based Approaches (HRBA) in the Global Stocktake (GST) text, a notion supported by the latest IPCC report.

The journey towards sustainability must respect the rights of all. Urging corporate responsibility and advocating for ethical energy transitions emerged as crucial steps in aligning the path to sustainability with fundamental human rights. Despite positive progress and discussions, COP28 saw the biggest number of lobbyists attending the climate conference. As reported in the media, 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists get access to COP28. Rights advocates warn against corporate capture and urge vigilance against lobbyists influencing COP negotiations – a potential hurdle to Paris Agreement goals.

As humanity address the changing climate and its challenges, the need to minimize migration risks becomes paramount. However, climate migrations, notably refugees, need more attention in COP negotiations. RWI delved into crucial discussions on the Human Rights Implications of Climate Migration & Forced Displacement. Dr. Melanie Pill (Lowy Institute) and Dr. Himanshu Shekhar (United Nations University) spotlighted RWI’s regional studies and introduced the Framework for Integrating Rights and Equality (FIRE) as an example of practical tool to mainstream HRBA into climate actions, as well as highlighting gender-based violence intensified by the climate crisis.

Second Week of COP28

In the dynamic second week of COP28, the collaboration between RWI and IOM took centre stage as we co-hosted an insightful session at the Climate Mobility Pavilion. Titled ‘Climate-related Human Mobility into and within Cities in Asia and the Pacific,’ the session attracted a diverse audience of stakeholders eager to engage in discussions about the pressing challenges of climate-related displacement in urban settings. Mayor Abby Binay of Makati, Philippines, commenced the dialogue with a compelling video presentation, providing valuable insights into Makati’s proactive measures in preparing the city to accommodate the influx of displaced persons affected by climate events from neighbouring areas.

The expert panel, featuring representatives from Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) and the Sri Lankan Climate Change Secretariat, Ministry of Environment, delved into illuminating discussions on the crucial roles played by civil societies and national governments in empowering city administrations to effectively address the intricate challenges of urban displacement. Dr. Matthew Scott, representing RWI, drew attention to the global challenges associated with climate-related displacement in urban environments. The session resonated with impactful insights drawn from collaborative research with the Asia Pacific Academic Network on Disaster Displacement (APANDD), along with practical experiences gained from working closely with local authorities in African cities. The exchange underscored the shared challenges confronting cities worldwide and reinforced the imperative for global collaboration in tackling climate-related human mobility issues.

RWI also joined discussions on unlocking climate finance for fragile settings, emphasizing patient, calculated risk approaches. Key takeaways highlighted the challenges faced by people in fragile settings, the potential of conflict-sensitive climate action for positive change, and the importance of financial institutions adopting patient, calculated risk approaches with a long-term perspective. The discussion emphasized the importance of indigenous rights and self-determination.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) served as a poignant backdrop to COP28. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, David Boyd, reinforced climate change is a human rights issue. Therefore, addressing root causes is paramount. This commemoration provided an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. Rights advocates call for COP decisions to protect planetary health, humanity, and advance human rights. The emphasis is not only on civil & political rights but also on recognizing and preserving cultural rights, especially pertinent for at-risk Pacific nations.

Beyond discussions, it’s time for action! The RWI team engaged in the Local Climate Action Summit discussions, focusing on just local energy transition, Multilateral Development Banks support for cities green transition, and Multi-level Partnerships for Accelerating Climate Action. Cities, facing climate impacts, are also catalysts for progress. It’s not just about talking; it’s about implementing tangible solutions. To unlock support, there’s a crucial need to simplify procedures for cities accessing funds from Multilateral Development Banks. Additionally, advocating for national tax reforms is vital.

RWI joined the 2nd Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization & Climate Change, uniting 60+ ministers and 100+ mayors from all corners of the world. Emphasis on multilevel partnerships and climate financing for local climate actions marked a pivotal moment for climate-resilient cities. Mayors urged collaboration with national governments and prioritized inclusive approaches.

As COP28 concludes, the journey towards harmonizing climate action and human rights continues. The discussions serve as a reminder that the road ahead is both challenging and promising. A resounding message: A fair, fast, and funded transition must prioritize human rights, for there is no climate justice without human rights!

COP29 is scheduled to be hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan on 11-22 November 2024.

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