COP15 and Climate Justice
Posted by Frances Orchard CJ
Climate Justice is a concept that has gained momentum as the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen has continued. Earlier in the week I attended a seminar on Climate Justice at which a statistician from India presented a case for historic justice by determining the global costs of mitigation. Her statistics were impressive and her case persuasive, but within the overall framework of the task facing COP15 not hugely helpful. Her argument went like this: if the developed countries that have enjoyed two centuries of growth stimulated by fossil fuels were to pay their debt to the rest of the world for the ecological damage done then huge sums should be changing hands between the north and the south. Her statistics were based on an historical analysis of the per capita figures in industrialized and non-industrialized countries since 1850 and she produced a figure somewhere in the billions of dollars that she claimed the north owed to the south. The problem with this sort of analysis is that the bases for such statistics is questionable; the benefits of industrialization enjoyed by developing countries is omitted from the equations; and given the critical need to persuade the leaders at COP to agree a package for a temperature increase of not more than 2°C her case was never going to reach the table. However, one could see the logic.
Much more persuasive in her presentation on Climate Justice was Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Unfortunately, she only spoke briefly as a panel member at a side event on ‘Climate justice, ethics, and the Copenhagen agenda: Roles of Institutions, civil society and markets’. She interpreted Climate Justice much more broadly than the previous speaker. As a life long advocate of human rights she now focuses on climate justice because she views it as one and same things. The injustices caused by climate change affect everyone – those deprived of food as climate changes alter the growing season patterns and land is bought up for bio-fuel development; those deprived of fresh water as minerals and chemicals leak into the aquifers and rivers; those whose health is affected by the spread of malaria and other preventable diseases. In the highlands of Ethiopia, for example, areas which have never known malaria because the climate was too cold for the mosquitoes, now suffer from malaria; the right to education as children are forced to go to work instead of attending school; and most significantly the right to life as climate patterns change and hurricanes, typhoons, sea surges, contaminated water sources, famines; increasing hunger, and disease take their toll. Climate change undermines our concept of human rights – especially those in fragile environments – where women and children are the hardest hit. In most developing countries where 70-80% of farming is done by women it will be the women who are responsible for drawing and the carrying the water; the women who provide and cook the food; the women who collect the firewood. In Darfur we heard that the increase in the number of women raped coincided with the increasing distance they had to walk to collect firewood.
Climate change is rising to the top of the list of human rights because it affects every aspect of life and human dignity. The incorporation of a rights-based approach would enable the UNFCCC to make human rights a cross-cutting issue that would strengthen the sustainability and effectiveness of climate change policies at UN level.