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Current Environmental Discussions Reflect Intense Impacts Of Climate Change

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The ‘Loss and Damage’ concept refers to the “permanent effects of climate change beyond what can be adapted to”. The reference goes its way out on stating that the effects can be ‘slow or rapid, economic or not’.

By Salam Rajesh

The current environmental discussions are heating up on critical issues addressing visible and projected impacts of climate change globally. In the recent Conference of Parties (COP) events in several parts of the world, there were intense deliberations on climate change impacts, of which the subjective matter on “Loss and Damage” featured prominently in the Montreal biodiversity conference last year.

The ‘Loss and Damage’ concept refers to the “permanent effects of climate change beyond what can be adapted to”. The reference goes its way out on stating that the effects can be ‘slow or rapid, economic or not’.

This then comes down to the more critical discussion on how the effects are “here and now” and unequally distributed geographically and socially. The losses and damages are stated to disproportionately impact vulnerable countries and members of society, including children, the elderly, migrants, women, and people of low socio-economic status.

It is in this context setting that the reference to the push on international acceptance of the ‘Loss and Damage’ concept reflects back to the concentrated effort of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) who introduced the idea of the ‘Loss and Damage’ way back in the 1990s.

In those early days, the Alliance called for compensation for countries vulnerable to rising sea levels. According to the ‘State of Global Environmental Governance (2022, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Earth Negotiations Bulletin)’, the concept was first included on a formal negotiations agenda in 2011 and institutionalized in the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts in 2013.

Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change, says, “Never in the history of humanity has the world faced so many environmental threats. Climate change is now called a Climate Emergency. We are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. Our oceans are being choked with plastic, and we continue to produce toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans and wildlife”.

“For millions of people, access to fresh water and sanitation is a growing challenge. The basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are at risk. As Article 3 of the Declaration states: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’. Sadly, too many lives are being lost because of our profligate abuse of the natural environment”.

Fry’s outburst reflects the concern on the extensive damages suffered to both humans and the wildlife as direct consequences of negative impacts of climate change phenomena, both from the processes of human-induced climate change and the nature-induced climate change.

In recent years, the world had seen extensive damages suffered due to different processes such as unprecedented rainfall resulting in extreme floods, mudslides, landslides destroying properties and killing hundreds of people globally. Earthquakes of high intensity, such as that which occurred in Turkey recently, rocked many parts of the world, inducing tsunami warnings in many coastline nations. Cyclonic storms ravaged death and destruction in their ferocious paths in the Asia-Pacific regions. The instances are many more.

“Linking human rights and climate change was another pivotal moment in 2022 when parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to establish a loss and damage fund. Millions of people are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. With the establishment of the fund, major polluters, both public and private, may be forced to pay reparations for the harm they are causing. Let us hope that this fund will be truly significant”, says Ian Fry.

The recent UN Biodiversity Conference at Montreal adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), where it was largely agreed, and hoped, that the framework will guide future biodiversity policy. The framework replaces the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, most of which were not met and critically criticized as a failure due to non-commitment by member nations.

The hope is basically on the principle that this time around, the targets are more comprehensive, specific, and time-bound. Guided by a vision of living in harmony with nature by 2050, the GBF includes four overarching goals and a set of 23 targets to be reached by 2030. Coupled with the targets set by the UN in its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the sights set look positive for the world at large, if and when member nations commit to the goals with equal zeal.

The discussions, therefore, revolve around the hope that global cooperation on an equal footing can help address issues such as plastics pollution on land and water. The process equally seeks in establishing a science-policy panel on chemicals and waste to prevent pollution. The hope is that the negotiations will help raise the profile of chemicals and waste issues as significant to biodiversity loss and impacts on human health.

Correspondently, the discussion is also about human rights with respect to biodiversity and climate issues. On this very aspect, in 2008 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution highlighting how climate change can undermine human rights. In 2021, the Council recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It established a Special Rapporteur ‘to contribute towards ongoing efforts at all levels to address the adverse impact of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights’.

In 2022, much of the human rights focus was on biodiversity. On the eve of the Convention on Biological Diversity COP 15, UN human rights experts stressed the need for a human rights-based approach. Measures intended to protect biodiversity, such as the concept of “fortress conservation” practices that is stated to violate human rights particularly of forest dependent Indigenous peoples and local communities.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted at the Montreal COP15 explicitly outlines a human rights-based approach to implementation. It reaffirms the rights, contributions, and unique value systems of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) as biodiversity custodians and conservation partners. Target 22 of the GBF seeks to protect human rights defenders.

It thus is seen that climate issues is critical of biodiversity loss on the one hand while assuming extensive violation of human rights in the implementation of biodiversity conservation when States over-ride human interests in the pursuit of the 30 percent global forest cover by the year 2050. This is where the momentum on ‘Loss and Damage’ has picked up across the continents and in the UN forums.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])


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