Human Rights & Democracy

Climate change and human rights: Speech on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate

Brussels, 18/05/2021 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 210519_16
HR/VP speeches

Speech delivered by Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, on the effects of climate change on human rights and the role of environmental defenders on this matter

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Mr President, Honourable Members of the [European] Parliament,

Let me warmly commend the work of rapporteur María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, and members involved, for this timely and significant report.

Environment, climate change and human rights are closely interrelated. The effects of environmental and climate degradation have a direct impact on the exercise of human rights, right to life, right to health, right to safe drinking water and sanitation, right to food. The new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 sets this as a clear priority for European Union’s action in the coming years.

The High Representative Josep Borrell, during his mission to the Sahel in April, witnessed how farmers suffer the consequence of desertification, water scarcity, crop and livestock losses. These conditions amplify inequality, increase displacements, fuelling instability and violence.

This year we have the opportunity to firmly enshrine human rights principles in the global action to revers biodiversity loss. The European Union Biodiversity Strategy underlines the importance of a human rights-based approach to ensure social justice, fairness and inclusiveness. The strategy indicates that the post-2020 global biodiversity framework under discussion should respect the rights and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities.

The report calls for the European Union to address water scarcity as a priority. The European Union acts to provide universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. We have invested more than €2.5 billion on water and sanitation in 62 countries, but much remains to be done. 2.1 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water. Two years ago the Council adopted European Union human rights guidelines on safe drinking water and sanitation, with the aim of providing the policy tools to European Union and Member States diplomats around the world to step up efforts.

The emergency to act increases every day, so does the need to protect those who stand up for our public good. Environmental human rights defenders are on the frontline to protect their rights and the rights of their communities affected by environmental degradation and climate change.

The European Union provides protection to environmental human rights defenders and indigenous peoples who are facing unprecedented level of threats and attacks. The situation, particularly worrying in Latin America and Asia, is unacceptable. In 2020, at least 331 human rights defenders have been killed; 69% of them were working on land, indigenous and environmental rights. Since its launch in 2015, has supported almost 12,000 land and environmental rights and indigenous rights' defenders -6,370 of them women- representing the main group supported by the European Union-funded mechanism. Through the mechanism, environmental human rights defenders and their family members can be urgently relocated, when necessary, and have their legal costs for justice and protection covered.

Let me underline again that the Commission fully shares the concerns and priorities outlined in the report. Today’s debate is of crucial importance and you can count on the European External Action Service with its network of delegations, and with the Commission, to actively pursue a fairer and safer environment where the human rights of all are promoted, protected and fulfilled.

Thank you.

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Closing remarks

Thank you Chair, Honourable Members,

The debate today testified the concerns and engagement regarding the impact of climate change on human rights.

I share your concerns and I want to express our active support for the key actions you propose in the report.

The European Union is not able to tackle these global challenges alone. We need to leverage our efforts by further increasing the cooperation with partner countries and carrying on using all multilateral fora to raise the global ambitions and standards together. Addressing the climate emergency, protecting and preserving the planet, is simply not an option but an imperative responsibility for which we, as leaders and decision makers, are accountable in front of these and future generations.

For this reason, it is a top priority for the European Union that an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework is adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP-15 in Kunming, China, later this year. It will provide an important opportunity for countries to commit to action.

Once again, be assured that you will find the High Representative and the Commission to address the major challenges that we discussed today and where, on the road ahead, failure is just not an option.

Thank you.

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