Climate change is a fundamental human rights issue and should be legally contested as such

DEAR EDITOR, earlier this month, the Pacific Islands Forum stated formally that climate change represented the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well being of the peoples of the Pacific,” and why I believe there must be greater emphasis on legally opposing those nations and corporations unwilling to accept the scientific evidence of climate change

Before coming to the Solomon Islands I worked as the Senior Legal Administrative Officer to the Member of the Executive Council, who held the portfolio of Minister for Safety and Security in the North West Province Parliament in the “new” South Africa – 1995-1996.

Much of my work on behalf of the Minister was to teach human rights to the re-created South African Police Service (SAPS) following the many years the members of the police service had spent serving under the former apartheid style of government.

In carrying out my duties I worked closely with specialist human rights educators seconded from the Raoul Wallenberg Institution in Sweden.

Since those days I have followed the work in human rights teaching and education by the Swedish Institution but also, closely, the work of the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

I looked for guidance from the Danish Institute before putting pen to paper for this piece and I saw the support I needed to put my case across when claiming climate change should be contested as an abuse of human rights.

I will quote from the Danish Institute’s website.

“The links between human rights and climate change are gaining more attention, and National Human Rights Institutions can play a key role in reducing global warming.

“Climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. This calls on the global community to limit greenhouse gas emissions and fight global warming for the benefit of both present and future generations. A case from the Philippines shows that the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can play a key role in actions on climate change.

“Climate change directly and indirectly affects a range of specific human rights, such as the right to life and the right to health. Therefore states must mitigate climate change and prevent its negative human rights impacts. Moreover it implies an obligation on corporations to protect people from climate change harm and other related human rights violations since corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights and to do no harm.

“The United Nations Human Rights Council has recognised climate change as a global problem, which has implications for the enjoyment of human rights. The Office of the High “Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has pointed out that climate change requires global solutions, which should build on and reinforce human rights commitments. OHCHR also advocates for “a Rights-Based Approach to Climate Change”, meaning that the main objective of policies that address climate change should be to fulfill human rights.

“Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights…and intergenerational equity”.

“These advancements open a window of opportunities for legal cases against governments and companies for their contributions to climate change and global warming.

“Several cases of human rights violations caused by climate change have already been won in the courts of Pakistan, the Netherlands and USA.

“The Children’s Trust has supported climate cases in six different States in the USA, invoking the human rights of young American citizens. These cases involve young people who sue the Departments of Ecology (DEP) in their state. The cases are based on human (and constitutional) rights, for instance proclaiming to ‘securing the legal right to a stable climate and a healthy atmosphere for all present and future generations’. Several cases have been won as judges have ruled that existing schemes fall short and ordering annual reductions in greenhouse gases.”

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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