Human-rights protections at risk in Paris climate talks

(Editor's Note: Fellow alt-weekly NUVO in Indianapolis has a correspondent at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, and has agreed to let CP post her reports from the talks. Lauren Kastner is on the board of directors of Earth Charter Indiana in 2015 and is a national youth leader with the Sierra Student Coalition. Read her previous dispatches in the News Hole.)

Time to talk about climate policy. I told myself I wasn’t going to discuss the wonky fine print of the negotiating text in The Paris Climate Diary, but I promise this one is important and worth taking the time to understand.

On Thursday, climate negotiators from Norway proposed eliminating Article 2, a key piece of the draft climate agreement that would protect the rights and equity of constituency groups including women, indigenous people, youth, and future generations. Soon after, the United States and Saudi Arabia joined Norway in moving the language in Article 2 to the preamble which has no legal meaning.

The inclusion of Article 2 last year at COP20 in Lima, Peru was a major accomplishment because it was the first time that these groups were explicitly mentioned in the text and recognized as needing special attention. Now this major accomplishment is in danger of backsliding.


Essentially, the promises made by world leaders including President Obama in opening remarks on Monday are completely meaningless if negotiators do not protect pieces of the agreement that their countries say they care about.

It can sometimes be difficult to understand why obscure language in an international legal agreement makes any difference when it comes to the enormous challenge of climate change. In this case, words do matter, but action matters more.

"This language is essential to show that the climate transition must not only be effective in reaching the long-term goal, but fair in how the world gets there," said Fred Heutte, Federal and International Climate Campaign Lead of the Sierra Club. "The Paris Agreement will be decided by governments, but only the people can give it life."

What’s happening now is exactly why it’s so critical for civil society groups representing environmental interests, human rights, faith leaders, women and gender issues, and youth constituencies to be inside the negotiations so that they can hold the negotiators and world leaders accountable. The policy points are complex and things move fast, but it is essential that the public continues to play a watchdog role or we won't have a fair and equitable agreement. 

Postscript: Yes, I missed a day of bringing you the juicy details of the Paris climate talks. Unfortunately, I was taken down by a cold and I missed the fun, too. Thanks for reading and I'll be back on Monday with all the news from week two of the climate talks.

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