Climate change and indigenous rights

Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, executive director of Tebtebba Foundation, highlighted the relationship of human rights and climate change, which according to her presents an enormous threat to a number of human rights, including the right to water, food, land and basic survival of peoples around the world. Climate change usually affects the most vulnerable in society, including the poorest communities, the indigenous peoples, and women. They are most affected by the impact of climate change even if they have not contributed significantly to this problem, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz highlighted.

According to Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, the human rights approach compels us to look at the lives of the peoples that are most adversely affected. She highlighted the case of the Philippines that had suffered from typhoon Haiyan while climate change negotiations were taking place in Warsaw. She explained that the Philippines is a middle-income developing country, with 7.6% GDP growth achieved in the first half of 2013. Yet, the Philippines could not cope with the devastation it faced. It was estimated that a loss of 12 billion dollars resulted from the implications of the typhoon. Those affected included 4.2 million people that were displaced and more than 300,000 people that are still living in shelters despite all the contributions provided to the Philippines. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz noted that this case also affected the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

She underlined that developing countries have not contributed to the climate change problem and the historical responsibilities do not lie with them. Yet, developing countries are being asked to carry the burden of adapting and mitigating in the face of climate change, without any support from the countries that have caused these problems.

This is the biggest tension in the negotiations, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz stressed. She added that developing countries’ interests in these negotiations have been undermined by industrialized countries.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz went on to discuss the situation of indigenous peoples in the world, noting that they are estimated to be around 400 million, forming 5% of the world’s population and yet making up 15% of the poorest population of the world. Indigenous peoples live on 22% of the land area of the world, which contains around 80% of the biodiversity of the whole world, she explained. Most of the remaining tropical rainforest today is found in indigenous peoples’ territory. Yet, the rights of indigenous peoples who live in these areas are the ones most violated.

According to Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, the rights-based approach will preset great potential in regard to getting human rights courts and bodies to treat climate change as an immediate threat, and to get governments to improve their commitments and consider the extra-territorial impacts of their actions.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz reflected on a few successes within the climate change negotiations, which according to her include the integration of human rights in the discussions held at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Cancun. She also mentioned the decision taken in regard to gender and climate change. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz also addressed the work on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) specifically installing safeguards to ensure the protection of the rights of local indigenous communities to the forest as well as to their traditional knowledge. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz noted the agreement achieved at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference (2013) on an international mechanism on ‘loss and damage’. This agreement reflects an understanding that focus should not be limited on adaptation when a country is subjected to short-term and long-term impacts of climate disasters. Some countries lost part of their territories and some islands are sinking as a result of climate change. This international mechanism would address such cases.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz concluded by stressing that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of considering human rights and climate change.


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