The climate change negotiations were complicated enough even when the objective was just to find a globally-acceptable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement currently under negotiation in Paris, however, aims to address a number of other concerns as well, including gender equality, human rights, food security, even rights of the disabled people, through the fight against climate change.
Negotiators are trying to ensure that the climate change agreement, when it is finalised, is sensitive to all these global concerns, and the climate action that countries take is in consonance with these other objectives. It is a recognition of the all-encompassing nature of these climate actions that are likely to mould economies and force a change in lifestyles.
The draft text that is being negotiated seeks to emphasise the importance of promoting, protecting and respecting “all human rights, the right to development, the right to health, and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable climate situations”. It also wants to “promote” gender equality and the “empowerment of women”, and take into account “the needs of local communities, intergenerational equity concerns, and the integrity of ecosystems and of Mother Earth, when taking action to address climate change”.
The draft text also talks about “safeguarding food security and ending hunger”, “poverty eradication” and “creation of decent work and quality jobs”.
“There are two kinds of phrases being used here. Some like poverty alleviation and sustainable development have always been there in the climate dialogue. And there are existing international processes that these phrases refer to. But a lot of new formulations are also making an entry now. I don’t think all of them will continue to remain in the final agreement, though. Some of them are being introduced into the draft as bargaining tools by countries,” said Michael Jacobs, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics who has been following the climate negotiations for long.
The climate change negotiations have always been about differentiation between the developed and developing, rich and poor, capable and weak — all at the country level. These used to get covered in the debates on equity, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, and the right to develop. The 1994 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a sort of constitution for climate negotiations, recognises that poverty eradication is the “first and overriding priority” for the developing countries.
The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which will end in 2020 and will be replaced by the agreement that is likely to
come out of Paris, had no reference to gender equality, food security or poverty alleviation. It restricted itself to assigning emission reduction targets to countries and related issues.
As the negotiations evolved, particularly in the last few years, and the game-changing nature of the proposed agreement became evident, discussions on these other issues have become much more explicit.
Even in Copenhagen, the last time the world tried to finalise a comprehensive global agreement on climate — unsuccessfully — these issues were not explicitly mentioned. Three years later, the outcome from the Durban platform did talk about poverty alleviation, gender balance or transition of workforce, but there were no discussions on human rights or food security, which are relatively new additions.
“Food security, for example, is very relevant to the climate change debate. Human rights and gender equality are concepts that are being recognised in all international agreements these days. But there are some other phrases that might be difficult to accommodate in a legal agreement. The lawyers will have a harder look at these phrases in the next few days,” Jacobs said.
These issues are mentioned only in the preamble and are meant to serve as guiding principles for the countries as they take action on climate. Countries are not being told what action to take, or how to take, so that these global concerns are taken care of.
Some of the phrases can be easily attributed to individual countries. “Rights of indigenous peoples”, and “integrity of ecosystems and of Mother Earth” are formulations that are often used by South American countries, mainly Bolivia. “Equitable access to sustainable development” is a phrase used by India. But it is not clear who introduced the references to the “right of health” or the rights of disabled people.
It will finally fall on the lawyers, whose job it is to ensure that the language of the agreement is consistent with all other international laws, to decide which of these phrases can remain in the final agreement and which need to be taken out.