Unfavourable times for human rights at COP25

This is a day dedicated to human rights at the Madrid climate negotiations, and civil society became mobilized at dawn following a long evening of work and endless waiting. Following the plenary session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 51) of the Paris Agreement, which was concluded late yesterday evening, the activists present at the meeting shared their disappointment when they were informed that no decisions had been made regarding a series of points in the agreement closely related to human rights. The challenge over the next few hours will be to succeed in putting pressure on the institutional officials present today at the COP meeting in order to convince them to reintegrate these principles and ensure that the Paris Agreement is implemented in a fair and effective manner for everyone.

Emissions Trading Markets - Article  6 of the Paris Agreement

With the aim of stimulating investments required to reduce the cost of transition to renewable sources of energy and to introduce production methods that are sustainable and will not cause pollution Article 6 of the Paris Agreement provides for the creation of  ‘emissions trading mechanisms’ and, that is, a system of emissions allowances that may be exchanged between states or among companies in order to facilitate the attainment of objectives set by nationally determined contributions (NDC).

The Emissions Trading Markets will have to rectify the failure of the previous credit system, the Clean Development Mechanism, which was implemented in the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. The Mechanism not only failed to reduce emissions, but in some projects actually caused damage at the environmental and social level, as in the case of the construction of large hydroelectric works carried out without taking into due account the long-term environmental effect and the immediate social impact on autochthonous populations that were forced to migrate.

For these reasons, civil society is committed to promoting the inclusion of clauses that will provide for the safeguarding of the environment and social dimensions, a monitoring system and an independent complaints system that may be referred to in cases of abuse with respect to local populations. All of these elements, which were initially integrated in the provisional text of Article 6, have been eliminated. There remains only a generic reference to the principles of human rights presented in the preamble and the complaints system, but this is no longer an independent mechanism. The outcome is decidedly worrying, especially for the future of indigenous peoples and those who are the most seriously affected by the construction of large-scale works aimed at reducing climate-changing emissions.

Loss and Damage Mechanism

During the COP19 meeting, the Warsaw International Mechanism was established to provide compensation for loss and damage associated with the impact of climate change, including extreme and slow-onset events. The revision of this mechanism is one of the fundamental points of these negotiations for the protection of those communities and countries which, in terms of emissions, have contributed the least to climate change but pay the highest price, and suffer the most severe consequences. The problem linked to this mechanism has an economic and political nature. The economic factor lies in the need to identify the economic and technical resources which may render these countries more resilient to a changing climate, while the political aspect is determined by the fact it implies recognition of the historical responsibilities of the 'major emitters'. The integration of human rights principles in the text of the Warsaw Mechanism is necessary to ensure that the process of transferring funds and technical resources is in fact adequate with respect to the needs of the populations of the recipient countries, but for the acceding countries, this implies the 'risk' of having to assume the burden of huge compensations which few would be willing to pay. At the moment the references to human rights have been moved from the main text to the non-binding preamble, which is not very encouraging given that this is normally one of the first steps taken prior to the total elimination of a particular principle from the negotiating text.

Gender Action Plan (GAP)

The Gender Action Plan is one of the sorest points of these negotiations. Initiated within the framework of the Lima Work Programme on Gender, the GAP aims to promote gender-sensitive climate policies and the full, equitable and meaningful participation of women within the United Nations institutions. The latest version of the text had been welcomed as a good result, given that it contained several references to human rights principles necessary to strengthen women's rights which are still disputed even today. What was not expected at all during this negotiation session was a rethinking of these principles, to the point of eliminating them almost entirely from the text and their replacement with more stringent provisions in terms of financing and implementation. After the failure to reach an agreement regarding the text of the GAP it is now up to the COP 25 Presidency to decide whether more time should be conceded to the negotiators, and whether the final work ought to be postponed by one year or whether the programme itself should be suspended. The challenge now is to put pressure on the state representatives present at the COP meeting and get the message across that a 'watered down' GAP is problematical, but even more harmful would be not having a programme dedicated to women's rights.

In both cases, we are left wondering what type of message will be eventually sent to the international community, also in view of the celebrations in 2020 of the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration, the first international treaty on women's rights (CSW64 / Beijing + 25). At this point, civil society hopes there will be a postponement of the works so that they may be 'influenced' by the celebrations of what will be a fundamental year for the rapid achievement of gender equality and the worldwide emancipation of all women (of all ages).

Chiara Soletti


Published for Italian Climate Network on the website of the organisation.