In October 2021, a vote by the UN Human Rights Council recognized that we all have a right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment. Our most fundamental human rights are inextricable from the health of the natural world, including the right to adequate food and even the right to life.
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The question now is whether governments will respond adequately to the urgent threats to these rights.
Despite grand rhetoric at the COP26 summit, the updated climate pledges, if met, still put the world on track to hit 2.4° Celsius of warming this century. The difference between the 1.5° target of the 2015 Paris Agreement and 2.4° Celsius would be measured in millions of lives — taken by natural disasters, food and water insecurity, displacement and climate-induced conflict.
To prevent this human rights catastrophe, global leaders must keep 1.5° alive with urgent action, not warm words. Wealthy countries with historic climate debt must immediately end fossil fuel subsidies, cut emissions every year to 2030, rapidly phase out fossil fuels and use public finance for ambitious transitions to renewable energy. This transition would be the greatest investment in human history.
However, leaders must also recognize that the climate crisis is already here now. Support must be provided for those most badly affected, who are often those doing the least to cause this crisis. In particular, climate refugees urgently need an international legal framework to allow them to move safely and with dignity. Despite more people being displaced by the changing climate than by war, they are falling through the gaps, with no binding legal protections.
This year features the inaugural International Migration Review Forum at the United Nations. It’s time for action over climate refugees.
Another essential resolution for world leaders in 2022 is to protect the blue beating heart of our planet. The ocean is our greatest carbon sink, home to extraordinary wildlife and directly depended upon by millions of people for livelihoods and food. However, we need to start supporting the ocean in return.
This means ending harmful fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organization. These subsidies drive carbon emissions and ecosystem collapse and imperil human rights. This year must also see an end to bottom trawling in protected areas, greater transparency in global fisheries — our most essential tool in the fight against illegal fishing and human rights abuses at sea — and a true recognition of the vital role played by ocean wildlife in keeping our climate stable.
The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is one moment where the world’s eyes will be on wildlife and biodiversity. After all, the flagship Aichi targets on biodiversity were missed and world leaders must resolve this year to truly step up to protect and restore nature. We are in an age of mass extinction with wildlife in precipitous decline.
This destruction of the complex web of life on Earth is inherently wrong, but it also directly threatens us. All our most basic human rights depend on a thriving natural world, and as we erode it, we also expose ourselves to more climate disasters, food insecurity, pandemics and devastating environmental injustice.
As well as action, establishing accountability is going to be a key test of world leaders this year. Just 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The biggest polluters have had plenty of opportunities to voluntarily cut their emissions and protect human rights and have failed to do so. Strong laws, alongside rigorous and consistent enforcement, are now needed to prevent environmental and human rights abuses from occurring in their supply chains.
EU legislation on sustainable corporate governance was due to advance last year, in order to increase corporate accountability and promote environmental standards and human rights around the world. This has again been delayed. This legislation must now be pushed through quickly and not be watered down.
The planetary emergency is here, but there is still hope. We can still make 2022 the year we finally take serious action to protect people and the planet — the solutions already exist. The New Year’s resolutions of our leaders should be to speed up the transition to zero carbon emissions, protect and restore nature, establish accountability for those destroying it, and put human rights and environmental justice at the heart of their decision-making. If they can finally do this, we can have a world where people and nature thrive, supported by one another.
*[Steve Trent is the executive director and co-founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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