Human rights are fundamental in the Paris Agreement
In 1998, the construction of San Roque Multipurpose Dam by the San Roque Power Corporation in San Manuel, Pangasinan, Philippines, promised 354MW of clean power, irrigation to at least 87,000 hectares of rice fields, and control of the annual flooding of the lower Angono River in the downstream municipality. Counting five years into completion of construction, 780 households, not discounting the indigenous Ibaloi people, were forced to leave their homes. Issues arose from the improper relocation, more aptly called displacement, due to loss of land, homes, and livelihood alongside the distress of anxiety and helplessness. Among the activists who organized his fellow people and opposed the development of the dam was Apo Jose Doton. He was fighting for their right to remain in their ancestral domains. Sadly, he was murdered in May 16, 2006.
In light of renewable energy and development, the displacement of the community in San Miguel and Doton’s death are clear violations of human rights.
Fast forward to December 16, 2018, the rulebook for the Paris Agreement—the guidelines, rules and regulations for the landmark agreement between Parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) as a global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels—was finalized in Katowice, Poland. With the release of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5oC this October, focus on how pressed for time the world is to limit the temperature increase as 2020 comes can only be emphasized enough until it rings no more. Everyone seems to have agreed with this sentiment and has thrown in words of caution, serving as foreboding warnings to the world leaders negotiating our future in rooms set on a previous coal plant in Katowice. At this point, inaction is equivalent to moral irresponsibility.
Amidst the overwhelming cautionary words, initiatives for action manifested. At the Conference of Parties (COP) 24, multiple countries and regional governments, alongside organizations from the business sector supported the Powering Past Coal Alliance for accelerated clean growth and phase-out of coal power. While this may be good news, lack of proper guidelines for climate action may cause human rights violations similar to the case of San Roque Multipurpose Dam. Protection from risks to human rights violations for the vulnerable is what climate justice activists want. However, the finalized rulebook is devoid of human rights.
Erika Lennon, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) Senior Attorney, mentioned, “In the final hours of the negotiations, the only reference to human rights disappeared from the text when the Parties punted a decision on carbon markets for another year.” There is another year, COP 25 in Chile, when we can hope human rights would resurface, but what about the rest of the rulebook? “Simply put, the outcome of COP24 is not compatible with the Paris Agreement, which promised to protect, respect, and consider human rights in climate action.” Lennon said.
When human rights are erased from the Paris Agreement rulebook, what is left for the people? Instead of being people-centered, the climate negotiations remained to be in the control of the big players: developed nations and mega-corporations, composed of only a few rich capitalists who benefit from hijacking the talks.
On site artwork by UGATLAHI during the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya in 2017 depicting various indigenous peoples of the Philippines standing up for their rights. (Photo by Jeckree Mission)
On March this year, John H. Knox, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, reported on The Effects of Climate Change on the Full Enjoyment of Human Rights. He mentioned that climate change affects the rights: (a) to life, (b) to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, (c) to adequate food, (d) to water and sanitation, (e) to adequate housing, (f) to self-determination, (g) and those particularly vulnerable including women, children, persons with disabilities, those living in extreme poverty, indigenous people, and displaced person. He argued that there are no global laws, policies or regional instruments that addresses this issue.
This is what we should expect the Paris Agreement to be: an international legal instrument that protects people from harm caused by climate change and its consequences in our societies and holds the perpetrators of human rights violations accountable. This is what we should expect the contents of the rulebook to be.
Prior to COP 24, the IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5oC underscored that the global response to the warming planet comprises transitions in land and ecosystem, eWithout explicit provisions pertaining to protection of human rights in the Paris Agreement rulebook, climate actions are at risk of being corrupted into committing human rights violations. The removal of human rights in the Paris Agreement rulebook is equivalent to allowing violations to the rights of the people, energy, urban and infrastructure, and industrial systems, with the consideration of sustainable development, including its focus on eradicating poverty and reducing inequality in their multi-dimensional aspect. This is in concurrence with years of advocacy by civil society organizations. History and experience has informed the need to recognize the significance of human rights as a fundamental framework for the Paris Agreement. As a supposed guiding principle of the accord, consideration of human rights will push forward inclusive development valuing the life, livelihood, and lifestyle of every individual. Just transition should be mandatory. While clean development is the clear target to reach the 1.5oC, it should not be accomplished at the expense of any rights of the people, especially the vulnerable. Case in point: the construction of San Miguel 1 Solar Project in Pangasinan, Philippines.
In November 2016, a year after the Paris Agreement, the residents and farmers of Brgy. Sto. Domingo, San Manuel, Pangasinan, Philippines held a strong opposition to the proposed 60MW San Miguel 1 Solar Project by the Philippine Einstein Energy Corporation. “We harvest thrice because irrigation [coming from the nearby San Roque Multipurpose Dam] is good.” Inocencio Galitre, a resident farmer of the barangay said. He added that they were offered relocation but “nice houses could not replace our livelihood as farmers.” He remembers the residents and farmers that were forced to sell their lands for the construction of the San Roque Multipurpose Dam in in 1998. “They were relocated but their lives were miserable. We don’t want to be like them.” However, in June 15, 2018, the provincial government has issued an endorsement for the development of San Miguel 1 Solar Project. Without explicit provisions pertaining to protection of human rights in the Paris Agreement rulebook, climate actions are at risk of being corrupted into committing human rights violations. The removal of human rights in the Paris Agreement rulebook is equivalent to allowing violations to the rights of the people.
In Li Shuo’s words, “A ‘Swiss Cheese’ rulebook is unacceptable.” Everyone should be reminded for whom is the Paris Agreement. Who should be held accountable and whose rights should be protected in the path to clean, sustainable and inclusive growth?
While the negotiators of COP are dealing with national interests, and they should not forget that the nation is the people. While at the negotiation tables, stories of Doton and Galitre should be recalled. We want to see people’s rights protection for marginalized people of the core of how we have these climate discussions. We demand just transition and inclusive development. We demand that human rights be explicitly stated at the Paris Agreement Rulebook.