Support and protection of environmental human rights defenders should be part of the agenda of COP27

November 7, 2022

Climate change dramatically impacts countries in Asia and the Pacific, particularly the poor, vulnerable and marginalized countries and communities. In Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines are amongst the top ten countries most at risk of climate change impacts.[1] From 1990-2018, there has been a significant increase in extreme weather events in the region. Severe floods, landslides and storms have contributed significantly to economic losses, fatalities and casualties.[2] Sea level rise is the greatest threat to Asia-Pacific’s vast populations and communities. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a global sea level rise of two meters will displace 180 million people living in low-lying coastal areas.[3] In the Pacific, sea-level rise threatens 97 per cent of people in 21 Pacific island states.[4]

Environmental human rights defendersand climate activists are at the forefront of climate action in Asia and the Pacific. They have a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of climate change and protecting the environment from further destruction. Their traditional knowledge and expertise are vital in environmental decision-making. They investigate, report, and share the stories of underrepresented groups through field research and community engagements. They address the impacts of climate change by protecting the environment from environmentally destructive activities, programs and policies. Because of their work that often related to big businesses and government activities, they are seen as anti-development, terrorists, rebels and communists and face threats, harassments and human rights violations. According to the annual report of Global Witness, there were 227 EHRDs killed in 2020, and around 18 per cent or 40 of those casualties were from Asia and the Pacific.[5 ] The report links mining, logging and agribusiness to most killings perpetuated by state forces and private security. In Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines had the most killings for nearly a decade, with a total of 270.[6]

In Southeast Asia, the story of world-renowned environmentalist Nguy Thi Khanh illustrates this. Ms. Khanh is the founder and CEO of Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID), a non-profit organization that advocates for sustainable energy systems, good environmental governance and inclusive decision making.[7] By working with scientists, civil society and the media, they have raised awareness on the environmental and health impacts of coal and identified new opportunities for clean energy.[8] In 2013, several coal-related disasters happened in Vietnam, which prompted Nguy Thi and her team to conduct educational discussions and training programs to those affected. Their work garnered intensive media coverage which initiated a public debate on the use of coal energy. This enabled them to collaborate with the Vietnamese government and adopt a new Power Development Plan which reduces the use of coal and increases the share of renewable energy sources to 21% by 2030.[9,10] However, in January 2022, she was arrested for tax evasion and imprisoned for two years. Many believe that these charges are punishment because of her strong opinion about coal. Also, around the same time, two other environmental advocates who shared the same opinions as Khanh’s were arrested for similar charges.[11]

We call on nation-states to include the recognition, support and protection of environmental human rights defenders in the agenda of the discussions and negotiations during COP27. The Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders calls for civil society organizations and the United Nations for continuing vigilance regarding the worsening attacks of environmental human rights defenders. Amidst the climate crisis, the environment is at a tipping point and people’s environmental and human rights are at stake.

We continue to stand and fight with fellow environmental defenders who are risking their lives to protect the environment and ensure that it will be enjoyed for generations. We only have one planet, one place we call home. It is up to all of us. Let us act now before it’s too late.

References:

  1. Prakash, A. (2018, September). The impact of climate change in Southeast Asia – IMF finance & development magazine: September 2018. IMF. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2018/09/southeast-asia-climate-change-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions-prakash#:~:text=Vietnam%2C%20Myanmar%2C%20the%20Philippines%2C by%20Germanwatch%2C%20an%20environmental%20group.
  2. Beirne, J., Renzhi, N., & Volz, U. (2021, March). Asian Development Bank. ADB. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/684891/adbi-wp1223.pdf
  3. Climate change in Asia and the Pacific. what’s at stake?: United Nations Development Programme. UNDP. (2019, November 28). Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.undp.org/asia-pacific/news/climate-change-asia-and-pacific-whats-stake
  4. Bossy, D. (2019, October 15). Nearly all Pacific Islanders vulnerable to sea-level rise. Asia & Pacific. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.scidev.net/asia-pacific/news/nearly-all-pacific-islanders-vulnerable-to-sea-level-rise/
  5. A Landmark Forum for Environmental Human Rights Defenders. OHCHR Homepage. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www2.ohchr.org/english/OHCHRreport2021/story-a-landmark-forum-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders.html
  6. Bolledo, J. (2021, September 13). For 8th straight year, ph is Asia’s deadliest country for land defenders. RAPPLER. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.rappler.com/nation/philippines-asia-deadliest-country-land-defenders-2021/
  7. GreenID Vietnam. (2018, May 5). Who we are ? Green Innovation and Development Centre. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from http://en.greenidvietnam.org.vn/who-we-are-1.html
  8. Nguy Thi Khanh. Climate Breakthrough. (2021, October 27). Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.climatebreakthrough.org/awardee/nguy-thi-khanh/
  9. Khanh Nguy Thi – Goldman Environmental Prize. Goldman Environmental Prize -. (2022, September 27). Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/khanh-nguy-thi/#recipient-bio
  10. Zoeller, C. (2021, October 25). Environmental hero: Khanh Nguy Thi. One Earth. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.oneearth.org/environmental-hero-khanh-nguy-thi/
  11. Wee, S.-lee. (2022, June 17). She spoke out against Vietnam’s plans for coal. then she was arrested. The New York Times. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/17/world/asia/nguy-thi-khanh-environmental-activist-arrested.html