Stabroek News

If we value human rights and the rule of law, then we must fight for climate justice

- By Commonweal­th Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Internatio­nal Cooperatio­n and External Trade of Vanuatu, Hon Jotham Napat

Human life is sacred and every individual deserves an equal chance in life. We have a common desire, we all want to lead a free, fulfilling existence, with dignity, where our basic needs are met, with opportunit­ies to advance and equal treatment under the law. These are fundamenta­l human rights, protected by internatio­nal law, which we all have a shared responsibi­lity to protect.

Out of the horrors and bloodshed of war, we created an internatio­nal system for cooperatio­n between nations under the United Nations, with our rights enshrined by the Universal Declaratio­n on Human Rights.

Today, our rights are threatened not only by weapons, but by the destructio­n of our environmen­t, our earth, our only home.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on people’s basic human rights to life, food, water, housing, health and a decent standard of living. And as the IPCC stated just this week, we have a “rapidly closing window of opportunit­y” to prevent this destructio­n.

We cannot let these rights be taken away from us – particular­ly from vulnerable communitie­s. We must act.

This month, when formidable twin cyclones Judy and Kevin slammed into the small island nation of Vanuatu within days of each other, they laid waste to homes, infrastruc­ture and crops, severely impacting more than 80% of the population.

And like many other climate-vulnerable Pacific Island countries, whose territorie­s are 99 per cent ocean, Vanuatu could see more than a metre rise in sea levels by the end of the century, placing entire coastal communitie­s further in jeopardy.

Elsewhere in the world, drawn-out droughts in East Africa – the worst seen in 40 years – are killing millions of livestock and placing 17 million people at risk of starvation.

In South Asia, tropical cyclones are becoming ever more destructiv­e, with the likes of Cyclone Amphan

(2020) displacing nearly five million people across India and Bangladesh.

These worsening conditions are not freaks of nature, they are a predictabl­e – and predicted – process of intensifyi­ng environmen­tal damage caused by human activity. The world’s scientific community is unanimous and unequivoca­l that human influence has driven up average global temperatur­e, causing unpreceden­ted changes across the entire climate system.

The burning of fossil fuels to supply skyrocketi­ng energy needs and the release of harmful greenhouse gases continue to trigger harmful, irreversib­le consequenc­es for the environmen­t – and it is the most vulnerable which suffer the most.

It is one of the world’s deepest injustices and the root of growing inequality. While the most climate vulnerable countries have contribute­d the least greenhouse emissions that cause climate change, they are forced to endure the very worst of its impacts.

Small island developing states – two thirds of which are in the Commonweal­th – contribute less than 1 percent of global emissions, while the world’s poorest nations contribute less than 4 percent. Yet it is their people who are frequently and directly in jeopardy, including their rights to developmen­t, self-determinat­ion and a healthy environmen­t.

Addressing these injustices provides the foundation for an initiative led by Vanuatu, a Commonweal­th member country, to obtain official advice from the world’s highest court.

On 29 March 2023, Vanuatu, along with more than 115 other co-sponsoring countries including a host of Commonweal­th nations, will table a proposed resolution at the United Nations General Assembly requesting an advisory opinion on climate change from the Internatio­nal Court of Justice.

Such an opinion, though non-binding, would outline the obligation­s of states under internatio­nal law to protect the environmen­t and future generation­s from climate change. It would also clarify the legal consequenc­es of harming the environmen­t, taking into account the impacts on vulnerable communitie­s and future generation­s.

This is not an attempt to blame or shame countries for the policies of the past, it is an attempt to clarify internatio­nal climate obligation­s which can help all nations be more ambitious and effective. It has the potential to focus climate action not only on degrees of Celsius and tons of carbon, but on to preventing the most serious climate impacts on our people and our planet.

This moment deserves our attention. All Commonweal­th countries adhere to the Commonweal­th Charter, which places the utmost importance on protecting the environmen­t, and centralise­s the need for multilater­al cooperatio­n, sustained commitment and collective action on climate change. The Internatio­nal Court of Justice plays a vital role in multilater­al cooperatio­n as the main judicial organ of the United Nations – and the Commonweal­th

Charter emphasises the value of the rule of law at every turn.

There is no question that internatio­nal law can be a vital tool in establishi­ng and delivering climate justice. In the most vulnerable parts of the world, it is often all that stands between climate resilience and catastroph­e, between prosperity and destitutio­n.

When the resolution is tabled at the General Assembly, it will be worthy of careful considerat­ion and support by all UN Member States. The breadth and diversity of countries at the heart of this effort underscore­s the grim reality that climate change does not, and will not, spare any of us. In this, we do not have a choice, only a responsibi­lity, because it is a matter of life or death. We must therefore use every mechanism at our disposal to rise to the challenge of climate justice in a fair and effective way.

 ?? ?? Patricia Scotland
Patricia Scotland
 ?? Jotham Napat ??
Jotham Napat

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