Climate Justice as a Habitat-related Human Right: Takeaways from CoP26 for advancing people’s led climate action

On Tuesday, November 30th, Habitat International Coalition held the event Climate Justice as a Habitat-related Human Right: Takeaways from CoP26 for advancing people’s led climate action” with the goal of discussing the outcomes of the Glasgow climate negotiations in the frame of climate justice and Human Rights, while highlighting some of the key pathways for building climate justice from a territorial perspective, anchored on human rights related to habitat. The event reunited a diverse group of speakers in order to engage both with the discussions that were held during COP26 and the numerous voices and approaches from the climate justice movement. You can watch the full video of the event here. 

The event started with an introduction by HIC President, Adriana Allen, during which she highlighted the  efforts from the coalition during 2021 in increasing its commitment and engagement with Climate Justice, most notably through October with the launch of a global call for Climate Justice to be treated and enacted as a fundamental Habitat related Human Right. Such a call was rooted on the five pillars of HIC’s Habitat Voices Manifesto and supported by the articulation and testimonies of HIC member initiatives around the globe. 

The opening remarks were accompanied by a message by Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, pointing to the links between climate justice and housing justice, calling for the need to move towards the decarbonization of the housing sector, to implement measures to prevent mass displacement as a consequence of climate related disasters and environmental conflicts, as well as to move towards resource and democratic control processes of adaptation and mitigation. Moreover, the rapporteur highlighted that, despite progress on the recognition of the right to a healthy environment as a Human Right and the creation of a new mandate on Human Rights in the context of Climate Change by the Human Rights Council, a historic opportunity was missed during COP26 for addressing root causes of climate change, with no recognition of a human rights based approach to addressing climate change. 

Following these opening remarks, a first panel took place, focusing on the main takeaways of COP26 from a climate justice perspective. Nessim Achouche (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) highlighted the shortcomings in terms of participation, especially from representatives and organizations from the Global South (highlighted by the current context under the pandemic), while also pointing to the need for disputing and problematizing the notion of “just transition” adopted in the final text without any tangible implication of what it means, specially for workers and communities impacted by climate change, opening the way to reapropriation through corporate interests. Mr. Achouche ended his remarks highlighting the mobilizations that took place outside the main summit, highlighting the need for reinforcing global solidarity between movements and seeking parallel spaces for articulation.  

Complementarily, David Dodman (International Institute for Environment and Development – IIED), further contextualized some of the discussions that took place during COP26 in terms of strategies and policy responses regarding climate change and their shortcomings when seen through the lenses of climate justice. Focusing on mitigation and adaptation strategies and their link to housing and habitat rights, Mr. Dodman pointed to how current frameworks fall short in terms of addressing vulnerabilities and advancing towards a just distribution regarding costs and benefits of mitigation activities and addressing and reducing the historic imbalances in terms of where and by whom emissions are produced. He also highlighted some key points of intersection that should be closely followed by those involved with habitat rights, such as the discussion on where housing is located and the growing transport related emissions, the increasing trend of climate gentrification and the opportunities on working with communities on climate adaptation through low-cost incremental construction using local materials and traditional building techniques. 

Following this first discussion, a second panel took place, focusing on possible alternatives for moving forward rooted in some of the key axes of the Habitat voices manifesto. Sebastian Duyck (Center for International Environmental Law’s Climate & Energy Program) focused on the shortcomes and opportunities in terms of achieving parity in political participation in the construction of a global agenda for climate action. Mr. Duyck pointed to the unprecedented levels of exclusion in terms of civil society participation during COP26, highlighting the need to look proactively for measures that address the fact that we are not equal in decision-making and promoting an environmental democracy perspective. He closed his remarks painting to some recent advances in terms of advancing towards a rights-based approach to environmental democracy, such as the entry to force of the Escazú agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean and the establishing of a European rapid response mechanism for the protection of environmental defenders by the Aarhus Convention

A similar call was made by Khady Camara (Vacances Vertes / Women’s march for climate justice in Senegal), who highlighted the need to organize different stakeholders from civil society, pointing in particular to the importance and possibilities regarding the articulation of women’s movements around climate justice through a lens of mutual care, solidarity and social responsibility. Ms. Camara shared the actions being carried out by her organization in Senegal and the historic women’s march for climate justice organized in the country in October, with more than 600 senegalese women signing  a document calling for key actions to be implemented.

Joseph Schechla (HIC-HLRN) followed with a call for envisioning a global human rights habitat without war by highlighting the different manners in which environmental degradation and natural resource extraction has been at the core of the process of displacement and dispossession in the context of  conflict, occupation and war, with devastating consequences for communities, particularly  indigenous peoples. Such is the case of landmines in western sahara, toxic dumping in palestine and Puerto Rico and depleted uranium and its environmental and health consequences in Iraq. Although these processes have been historic and long-standing, Mr. Schecla pointed out a recent growing trend of greenwashing, through intervention and degradation of local ecosystems of occupied territories by foreign companies under the framework of well-funded green transition initiatives. 

A similar call was made by Khady Camara (Vacances Vertes / Women’s march for climate justice in Senegal), who highlighted the need to organize different stakeholders from civil society, pointing in particular to the importance and possibilities regarding the articulation of women’s movements around climate justice through a lens of mutual care, solidarity and social responsibility. Ms. Camara shared the actions being carried out by her organization in Senegal and the historic women’s march for climate justice organized in the country in October, with more than 600 senegalese women signing  a document calling for key actions to be implemented.

Finally, Sandra Guzman (Climate Policy Initiative) closed out the panel by introducing some key takeaways of the climate finance debate throughout COP26, highlighting the importance of expanding and leveraging current mechanisms in order to ensure that climate finance instruments do not to reinforce pre-existing inequalities and work to diminish them and secure profound economic redistribution. The results of the negotiations have been disappointing, with targets for resource transfers not being met, insufficient mechanisms to ensure the prioritization of the most vulnerable countries and communities and an unequal distribution of resources between and within regions, accompanied by an overall bias towards mitigation and reduction of emissions without sufficient focus on adaptation and loss compensations for communities already affected. In order to change such picture, Ms. Guzman highlighted the importance of mobilization both by the most vulnerable countries during negotiations and by communities in overseeing and participating in the debate around budget definitions and allocation of resources.

Overall the debate allowed for important insights on how HIC and its members can reinforce their work in the climate justice front, highlighting some of the key entry-points of discussion regarding the intersection between climate justice and habitat rights and pointing possibilities for further engagement with mobilized groups. In this sense, the event serves as a stepping-stone for a continued effort and discussion throughout 2022 and beyond through the creation and consolidation of a working group within HIC dedicated to climate justice. If you are interested in joining such a group, stay attentive to our communication networks and don’t hesitate to contact us through gs@hic-net.org.

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