Human rights and climate change are interlinked: Ian Fry

PISFCC sailed down the New York East River to call for climate justice, 20 September 2022

“Human-induced climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and societies the world has ever experienced, and the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price”, says Ian Fry, Tuvalu national and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Climate Change.

Fry highlighted the “enormous injustice” perpetrated by rich countries and major corporations, which are not acting to reduce their greenhouse emissions, and consequently failing the poorest and least able to cope.

“The G20 members, for instance, account for 78 per cent of emissions over the last decade”, he underscored.

The Special Rapporteur sat down with UN News before delivering his report at the upcoming COP27 in Egypt, which focuses on three areas: mitigation action, loss and damage, access and inclusion, and the protection of climate rights defenders.

Fry says countries need to improve action on mitigating climate change. “We know that there’s not enough being done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so I want to bring attention to that and look at the human rights implications of not doing enough on climate change,” he said.

On loss and damage, he said there have been discussions around establishing a Loss and Damage fund, but that’s been moving very slowly, so he hopes to build further momentum to work on getting that fund agreed, and up and running.

He told UN News: “We’ve seen pushback by some key countries around advancing the issue (on loss and damage), but the developing countries have unanimously said “we want loss and damage on the agenda” and civil society is saying the same thing.”

“I was recently in Bangladesh and saw firsthand the impacts of climate change. And it’s unfair for countries like Bangladesh to have to deal with the cost of climate change on their own, which is not of their own making. So, the most vulnerable countries produce the least amount of emissions, yet they’re paying the cost of the damage from climate change.

So, it’s time the big countries, the major emitters, stood up and said, “we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to make a contribution to these vulnerable countries”, he said.

For access and inclusion, those most affected by climate change should be able to present their voices to climate change meetings, Fry highlighted.

“This is women, children, youth, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, all the groups that are right at the forefront of climate change and human rights impacts. We need to find ways of getting their voice into the climate change process.”

“I would also like to see a revision of the Gender Action Plan since it’s quite old, it’s not well-developed,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur emphasised that human rights and climate change are interlinked such that “we have to put a human face to climate change”. With recent floods in Nigeria and Pakistan as well as the severe drought in Somalia, Fry says the human rights of millions around the world are being affected as a consequence of climate change.

COP26 saw finalised negotiations on the 2015 Paris Agreement, which meant in 2023, parties to the agreement will undergo a ‘global stock take’, as Fry puts it, reporting detailed data on their greenhouse gas emissions. 

Fry believes curbing global warming to 1.5 degrees is “a challenge”. We’re not seeing that with the current Nationally Determined Contributions and the sort of commitments that have been made by countries, he said.

“We’re heading on a pathway towards two to three degrees Celsius, so there has to be a lot more action to get countries to reduce their emissions.