Lifeline amidst a Collapse: Environment Defenders Demand for Climate Justice!
The Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders is in solidarity with environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs), environmental advocates, and climate activists today in the Global Climate Strike. We join the calls for climate justice and the defense of environmental defenders. The principal and historically highest greenhouse gas emitters from the Global North and multinational and transnational corporations must be accountable for their environmentally destructive and plunderous activities resulting in the climate crisis. Their actions have violated human rights and left the least emitting developing and vulnerable countries to bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Moreover, their profit-oriented framework within the capitalist system perpetuates ecological disturbances, social inequalities, and poverty.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Asia and the Pacific are among the most vulnerable regions to climate change.1 The 6th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report on Climate Change suggests that climate change will have worse impacts in the region, bringing devastating consequences to crucial sectors. Heat waves and floods will increase the vulnerability of people’s health to vector and water-borne diseases and pollution. The region’s food and water security is at risk because of stronger typhoons, increased floods, and the worsening of droughts and heat waves, which can impact efficiency in production and price stability, affecting adequate access. Climate change impacts will also exacerbate the losses and damage to urban and rural communities and facilities and see an uptick in climate disasters and disaster-induced displacements. South and East Asia account for 30% of global displacements due to severe floods from more vigorous and frequent typhoons.2
Small Island States (SIDS) in the Pacific share similar burdens and fears with Asia regarding climate change impacts on health, food, and water. In addition, some states have reported losses and damage due to sea-level rise, exacerbated by the lack of access to loss and damage funds and mechanisms.3 The Pacific has also seen increased climate-related migration to neighboring countries and abroad to look for jobs and a safer environment for their families.4
Several projections have become a reality in Asia and the Pacific. For example, in South Asia, the August 2022 floods in Pakistan drowned ⅓ of the country, displaced 8 million people, and damaged numerous homes and infrastructures. It also crippled the country’s agricultural sector by destroying 1.6 million hectares of agricultural land.5 The flood also rendered 9 million impoverished, 7.6 million facing food insecurity, 4.3 million facing livelihood instability, and 17 million women and children are also left more vulnerable to diseases.6
In the Pacific, the precarious situation within the Torres Strait Islands in Queensland, Australia, has seen its ocean levels rise to 8 centimeters since 20107,and its impacts have been devastating. It has destroyed people’s homes, saltwater intrusion contaminated their garden soils and freshwater sources, and encroached on their ancestral burial grounds, affecting their cultural rights.8
These experiences forced the hand of the indigenous people on the island to file a case against the Australian government under the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHCR) to save their home and for violating their human rights because of the government’s inadequate climate adaptation actions and reduction of carbon emissions. The committee ruled in their favor, thus setting a significant precedent for individuals to defend their rights against a government’s lack of climate action.9
As these impacts continue to negatively affect human rights, and concrete climate action from governments is non-existent or lacking, environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) have been at the forefront of the climate crisis for decades. EHRDs are “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora, and fauna.”10 Their meaningful environmental and social justice work has provided a better platform to raise awareness for the most impacted and ignored communities (as evidenced by the Torres Strait Islands case) and risks their lives to protect our natural environment from destructive and extractive operations.11,12 Because of this, EHRDs are among the most at-risk groups globally. They face stiff repression from state and non-state actors, including threats, smear campaigns, slander, and killings. In 2021, Frontline Defenders identified EHRDs in Asia and the Pacific as the most affected, with 247 cases of attacks, a pattern that persists today.
In light of these events, during last year’s Conference of Parties 27 in Egypt, EHRDs from Asia, the Pacific, and other regions demanded that climate justice is central to a just transition.13 For them, climate justice must include: respecting and protecting their human rights, including the civil and political rights of defenders and their communities, and ensuring an enabling environment to continue their work peacefully. One concrete measure would be to have a regional policy that seeks greater protection of EHRDs.
The crucial work of environmental human rights defenders is more pivotal than ever as the world continues to breach more planetary boundaries, which pushes us to an inevitable ecological tipping point. We reiterate the calls to save our environment and protect and support defenders’ rights for a just transition. The collective fulfillment and enjoyment of our human rights and future generations are at stake.
We must be proactive rather than reactive; we want real and substantial actions now! No more false solutions! The world needs climate justice now!