on 29th September 2015

On the road to the Paris climate talks with a human rights map

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development (also known as the SDGs) were adopted on Friday, 25 September. Now economic development, social justice and the environment have climbed into a (fuel efficient, renewable-powered) car. No, that’s not the beginning of a bad joke. It’s a recognition that sustainability includes all three, and all three must travel together to Paris where countries will sign a new climate agreement in December. This agreement must establish a strong, new regime for ensuring ambitious action to avoid dangerous global warming and support vulnerable populations.

So how do we ensure we don’t veer off the road to Paris? Well, we need a map. The human rights agenda is the map that will guide us from the SDGs to the UN climate conference in Paris (COP 21). We cannot advance sustainable development, end poverty and hunger, achieve gender equality, and tackle climate change if the human rights agenda does not guide all our efforts. But what sign posts should we look for to know we haven’t taken a wrong turn?

Signpost 1: Ambitious contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Climate change is a study of injustice. The people least responsible are the most impacted. The level of collective mitigation ambition must reflect equity among countries, in the pledges and contributions they put forward – the countries most responsible and capable must do their fair share. And if the ambition falls short of what’s needed to avoid dangerous global warming, to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, countries must urgently close the gap. Rapidly expanding renewable energies in a sustainable manner will both help to reduce emissions accordingly and fight energy poverty, another SDG.

Signpost 2: Ambitious pledges of financial support to vulnerable countries and communities

Any gap in ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will signal a greater need for adaptation action and a demand for higher levels of financial support. Protecting the right to sustainable development requires that developing countries receive adequate support to transition to sustainable development pathways and resources to adapt to increasingly severe climate change impacts. The Paris Agreement must include a financial target for adaptation to ensure these needs are not neglected, and countries most responsible and capable must commit to scale up finance.

Signpost 3: A Global Adaptation Goal that enables increased action and learning

Climate change is happening now. Small-scale farmers are trying to deal with shifting rainfall patterns, higher temperatures, and withering crops. Coastal communities are being buffeted by stronger storms as they watch their livelihoods being washed away. Women are walking further to collect water, adding to an already heavy labor burden. A global adaptation goal should facilitate a regular exchange of learning about adaptation needs and action; it should call for countries most capable to provide adequate support to vulnerable countries and communities, making it clear that adaptation is a core part of climate action.

Signpost 4: Anchoring of loss and damage in the Paris Agreement

Mitigation action has come too late and adaptation is not enough to address all the impacts of climate change. People living in poverty will experience permanent losses – to their livelihoods, their culture and way of life. And they have the least resources to deal with the damage of changing and extreme weather patterns. The Paris Agreement must recognize that loss and damage is a reality, and that vulnerable countries and communities will need support. The Agreement can and should leverage existing institutions to advance the loss and damage agenda, increase understanding of the challenges, and to enable vulnerable countries to plan and access support.

Signpost 5: Protection and promotion of food security, environmental integrity, and gender equality

We cannot wait any longer; action on climate change must accelerate today, not tomorrow. The first step is for countries to reduce emissions, ramp up financial support, enable adaptation, and address loss and damage. To advance the sustainable development agenda, climate action must be built on the foundation of rights: protecting the right to food, the right to a healthy environment, and the rights of all people, particularly women, who are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Putting human rights at the forefront of the Paris Agreement helps ensure that actions do not undercut food security in vulnerable countries and communities or violate rights to land; it ensures that actions do not undermine ecosystem health and do not exacerbate gender inequality.

The SDGs kick off a new global agenda that aligns the environment, economic development, and social justice. Following the human rights map on the road to Paris will ensure that we achieve a strong regime for enabling ambitious action, for matching resources with needs, for catalyzing a shift to sustainable development and renewable energy, for protecting the most vulnerable among us. Together the SDGs and a successful COP 21 can ensure we arrive at our ultimate destination: collective action to protect the planet, protect people, and protect human rights.

Tonya Rawe, Senior Advisor for Policy and Research, Food & Nutrition Security Unit, CARE USA

Author
Tonya Rawe

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