LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rights experts and civil society groups issued an open letter on Wednesday to ministers attending U.N. climate talks in Lima, urging governments to enshrine “human rights for all” in the new global climate deal due to be agreed at the end of 2015.
At the same time, thousands of Peruvians and indigenous people from the Andean and Amazon regions marched shoulder to shoulder with climate activists from around the world on the traffic-choked streets of Lima.
They called for urgent action to tackle climate change and the environmental problems affecting communities dependent on natural resources for their survival.
Danitza, whose Quechua name Pilpintu means butterfly, from Peru’s south-central Andean region of Ayacucho, said people must take care of the earth, not least for the benefit of their children.
“For the next generations, we should look after our water, the earth, our food,” she said, carrying her baby dressed in traditional clothes.
Many at the march, around 15,000-strong according to organizers, shouted and waved banners demanding clean water, 100 percent renewable energy, and protection of their rights threatened by extractive mining and major development projects, such as hydro-electric dams.
More than 200 groups working on environment, development and human rights that signed a letter to ministers, together with 76 rights experts, warned that “climate change and certain actions being taken to address climate change interfere with the enjoyment of human rights protected under international law”.
Maria Jose Veramandi, senior attorney with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), pointed to the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as “just one example of where things can go wrong”.
Projects carried out as part of the CDM, a carbon trading mechanism that supports clean energy projects, have been accused of a variety of human rights violations since the mechanism started work, she said.
She cited the construction of the Santa Rita dam in Guatemala, saying it had led to violence and repression against indigenous communities, including the death of two children.
The executive board of the Clean Development Mechanism
has since agreed on new guidelines to try to ensure local people have more say in CDM projects.
Out on the streets of Lima, civil servant Celso Sempertegui held one edge of a 100 meter-long green silk banner sporting messages and pictures in opposition to Newmont Mining Corp’s proposed $5 billion Conga mine in Peru’s gold-rich Cajamarca region - which is now on hold - as well as a planned Chadin hydropower plant.
People in the region are worried these projects will harm their lakes and take away their water, the municipal worker said.
Others on the march, like Fazal Issa from Tanzania, were more concerned with the direct impacts of rising temperatures and extreme weather.
“We have the highest mountain peak in Africa, for example, and we have lost 80 percent of the ice caps there,” said Issa.
“We are here to raise our voices and say our demands to the negotiators inside the climate talks. We want an ambitious, legally binding and equitable (climate) deal,” said Issa, a member of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.
John Knox, a U.N.-affiliated independent expert on human rights and the environment, said climate change is already interfering “with an immense range of human rights, from housing in the Maldives, to water in Tuvalu to food in the Sahel region of Africa, and... the problems of course will only get worse.”
A human rights approach to solving these problems can ensure governments take care of the neediest people in their countries, he added.
He and other experts are calling for language in the climate pact due to be agreed in Paris in a year’s time that commits governments to “respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights for all” across their climate change-related actions.
So far, the draft text for key elements of the new deal merely stresses that actions to address climate change should respect human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples.
But civil society groups want stronger language on human rights to be cemented in the parts of the agreement that governments have to put into practice.
They also urged negotiators to launch a new U.N. work program in Lima to ensure that human rights are integrated into all aspects of climate actions.
“The application of a human rights framework can support building trust and the development of a very effective (climate) deal,” Kit Vaughan, director of climate change at CARE International, told journalists.
Moutari Abdoul Madjid, who works on water projects in the Zinder region of Niger, said on the march that the most important thing for the communities he works with is funding to help them adapt to growing water stress.
“There is really a lack of resources - communities are dying,” he said.
Yolanda Kakabadse, WWF’s international president and former Ecuadorian environment minister, said the message from the demonstration was that governments should be more responsible on climate change.
“We can’t delay action anymore - it’s been too slow,” she said. “We have to lay the table here in Lima... for Paris.”
Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering