INTERVIEW: Link between human rights and climate change ‘cannot be denied’ – UN News | Mobiz World

Ian Fry, a professor at the Australian National University and Tuvalu’s former ambassador on climate change for over 21 years, was appointed the first special rapporteur on climate by the UN Human Rights Council in May after overwhelmingly recognizing the right to a healthy environment, in 2021.

“Human-caused climate change is the greatest and most pervasive threat to the natural environment and society the world has ever faced, and the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price,” the expert told delegates.

Mr Fry highlighted the “tremendous injustice” being committed by rich countries and big companies who fail to act to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, leaving the poorest and least able to do so.

“The G20 members, for example, are responsible for 78 percent of the emissions of the last decade,” he stressed.

The Special Rapporteur sat down with UN News before delivering his report, which focuses on three areas: mitigation, loss and damage, access and inclusion, and protecting climate rights advocates.

He spoke about what he hopes to achieve from the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt (COP27), addressed some of the climate challenges posed by the war in Ukraine and shared some of the recommendations he had made to member states, including the call for a High Level Forum next year.

Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, sits down for an interview with UN News.

Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, sits down for an interview with UN News.

UN NEWS: Can you please explain what the focus of your first report to the General Assembly is?

IAN FRY: The main issues will be discussed at the COP in Egypt.

First, problems around improvement of mitigation measures to get countries to commit to more action. We know that not enough is being done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so I want to raise awareness and look at the human rights implications of not doing enough to address climate change.

The next topic is exactly the aftermath of that, and I’m looking at those issue of loss and damage. These are the huge impacts that countries are suffering as a result of climate change and the huge costs that come with it. So far there have been discussions about the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fundbut this is very slow going so I hope to give further impetus to work towards getting this fund agreed and operational.

The latest issue is here Access and Inclusion. This allows people most affected by climate change to raise their voices at climate conferences. These are women, children, youth, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, all groups on the front lines of climate change and human rights impacts. We need to find ways to include their voice in the climate change process.

UN NEWS: What is the link between human rights and these issues that we see in relation to climate change?

When we think of the floods in Nigeria and Pakistan and the severe drought that is currently affecting Somalia, people’s human rights have been affected as a result of climate change.

These are millions of people around the world whose basic enjoyment of human rights is being compromised. So we need to make that connection We need to put a human face on climate change.

On September 3, 2022, four-year-old Rahim stands on the rubble of his home in Pakistan, which was destroyed by the floods.

On September 3, 2022, four-year-old Rahim stands on the rubble of his home in Pakistan, which was destroyed by the floods.

UN NEWS: At the last UN climate conference, held in Glasgow in 2021, member states signed a declaration closing negotiations on the outstanding terms of the Paris Agreement. What do you think countries will be talking about during the upcoming COP in Egypt?

Well, there are a number of issues on the table. We lead to what is called the global inventory [in 2023], this is a review of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. So there are processes involved in setting up this verification process.

I think the crunch issue is going to be around this whole loss and damage debate. We have seen some key countries being pushed back to push the issue forward, but developing countries have unanimously said, “We want to put casualties and damage on the agenda,” and civil society is saying the same thing.

UN NEWS: And what are the challenges in loss and damage?

Well, there are big developed countries that are quite concerned about this and are looking at this problem from the perspective of what the polluter pays. At the moment, the countries that are most affected by climate change and bear the costs must bear those costs themselves.

I was recently in Bangladesh and witnessed first hand the effects of climate change. And it is unfair that countries like Bangladesh should bear the costs of climate change that they did not create themselves. So the most vulnerable countries produce the least amount of emissions, but still pay the cost of climate change damage.

So it’s time for the big countries, the big emitters, to stand up and say, ‘We have to do something, we have to do something for these vulnerable countries’.

Villagers in Pakistan's Khairpur Mirs district of Sindh province cross flooded land to get to their homes.

© UNFPA / Shehzad Noorani

Villagers in Pakistan’s Khairpur Mirs district of Sindh province cross flooded land to get to their homes.

UN NEWS: What would be the best outcome of this COP for you?

I made a number of recommendations in my report. One of them is the initiation of a process to set up this loss and damage fund.

We also need to have a process to ensure greater participation, particularly for civil society, youth and women’s groups, and to open up the COP to these groups so that they have a better say.

I would also like to see a revision of the Gender Action Plan as it is quite old and not well developed. We know that there are critical questions about the impact of climate change on women and young people, and these questions need to be raised and incorporated into the agenda and action plan that has been developed to address these issues.

There are a whole host of other issues I want to push forward. For example, the issue of increasing mitigation. I’m trying to suggest that the parties should urge the UN Secretary-General to hold a special summit next year to reinforce pledges to reduce their emissions.

Hopefully that’s still to come.

An aerial view of N'djamena after heavy rains in August 2022.

An aerial view of N’djamena after heavy rains in August 2022.

UN NEWS: Since the right to a healthy environment became a universal human right, have you seen any changes by countries?

I think countries are starting to see how they can implement this resolution. There is certainly a dialogue within the countries.

I know The European Union is currently discussing how to incorporate this resolution into its national legislation, within constitutions. And I think regional bodies are also looking into this to develop regional agreements that incorporate this resolution.

UN NEWS: At this point, do you think it’s possible to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees?

Well it’s a challenge. With the current nationally determined contributions and the commitments that countries have made, we do not see that.

was on the way towards two to three degrees Celsiusso much more needs to be done to get countries to reduce their emissions.

The complication, of course, is the war in Ukraine, where we see that countries must somehow find old sources of fossil fuels to replace what they have been deprived of as a result of the war. So that’s the problem, and that was also a distraction.

But there’s a good side too, I think countries are also saying they need to be energy self-sufficient and the cheapest way to do that is with renewable energy.

And we see Portugal moving towards 100 percent renewable energy, we know Denmark is doing the same and I think that will make other countries see the need to be renewable and self-sufficient in their energy.

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