Draft of Paris climate deal omits references to human rights

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By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Dec. 11, 2015

The latest draft of the Paris climate agreement leaves out all references mandating protection of human rights — including the rights of indigenous peoples, native representatives attending COP21 said Friday.

Indigenous representatives said the omission is an attempt by wealthy industrialized nations to avoid accountability for their role in causing climate change, and an effort to establish carbon-trading programs instead of simply cutting their own emissions.

“The new draft … omits mention of human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples from any operative article,” Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the Indigenous Environment Network, told Al Jazeera from Paris.

The latest draft, released Thursday evening, does mention the protection of human and indigenous rights in the preamble, but all other references to those rights in actionable articles of the agreement have been removed.

“In other words, there’s no legally binding obligation to respect, observe our rights,” Saldamando said, after warning on Thursday that the agreement risked overlooking those rights.

For some, the decision to scrap the references was not surprising.

“To be absolutely frank, our organization and me personally, I’m not surprised … that our rights as indigenous peoples are one of the most contentious and the ones that get left out of the agreement,” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer for the Indigenous Environment Network.

Goldtooth said including actionable references to those rights would force top polluters to be held accountable for human rights violations resulting from climate change. “If you have nations already facing the reality of climate change, moving entire communities and villages because of its effects, who’s accountable for that?” Goldtooth said. “Who’s on the line?”

United Nations officials have acknowledged that the urgent issues faced by low-lying coastal communities and island nations, which are at risk of forced migration or evacuation because of rising seas and intensifying storms, is a human rights issue resulting from climate change.

“There can be no doubt that climate change has both direct and indirect impacts on a range of human rights, including the rights to life, food, water, health, housing, and development,” Tauli Corpuz, United Nations special rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said in a press release Thursday.

Goldtooth said he didn’t expect any changes to the final climate agreement, which is scheduled to be unveiled early Saturday.

“You’ll see it in the preamble. It’s a farce. It just goes to show that our political leaders are not truly concerned about the value of human diversity, human life or mother earth — they’re concerned about maintaining business as usual,” Goldtooth said.

Instead of focusing on cutting carbon emissions at the source, top polluters have focused negotiations in Paris largely on promoting “sustainable development,” which critics say is a mask to promote carbon trading markets that would allow developed nations to combat climate change through market-based mechanisms.

Such markets are programs aimed at controlling carbon emissions by providing economic incentives for emissions reductions.

To Goldtooth and other critics, those are false solutions. The only way to decrease global average temperatures is establishing mandated emissions cuts and keeping fossil fuels in the ground, he said.

Another approach pushed by developed countries is carbon mitigation, including attempts at conservation aimed at using forests to capture carbon from the atmosphere. The rights of those who live in the forests could be impacted, Salmanando said. Other indigenous communities are at risk from alternative energy projects, including hydroelectric dams that push native and other local communities from their own lands.

References to using indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, which has allowed them to sustainably manage their environments, to combat climate change was also left out of the latest draft.

Despite the disappointment among indigenous representatives, they said grassroots actions and organizing in their own communities would continue.

As an example, Goldtooth pointed to the recent decision by the Obama administration to cancel the Keystone XL project, a $7 billion tar sands oil pipeline that would have carried crude from Canada through the U.S. heartland to the Texas Gulf Coast, bypassing indigenous communities along the way.

“Everyone wants to congratulate Obama, but it was because of grassroots action, common people like farmers, ranchers and indigenous peoples from the tar sands to the Gulf Coast saying, ‘We don’t want this,’” Goldtooth said.

“That’s what created that decision, and that’s what we’re going to keep on moving with, showing that if political leaders can’t take decisive actions it is up to us as people to act,” Goldtooth said.

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