Human rights watered-down at COP25

It was established that Friday 13th December 2019 would be the last day of the Madrid negotiations on climate issues. On that day, during the press conference held at 7 pm, the Chilean Presidency of the Assembly announced that the negotiations would be prolonged. It was not expected that they would be extended until 15th December, making this the longest period of negotiations in the history of the UNFCCC. In the meantime, civil society has not spared itself and has used every additional hour of this process to promote the integration of human rights in the texts subject to negotiation.

In the previous drafts of guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement (Paris Rule Book - SBI, SBSTA) there were references to principles such as - amongst others -  gender equality, a just and equitable transition and the protection of indigenous populations. In the versions studied by the delegations in the final stages of negotiation these references had for the most part disappeared, creating further ground for confrontation among the participants in the discussions.

Carbon markets and human rights

More specifically, in the most recent draft text dedicated to defining the so-called Carbon Markets (Art.6 PA) the only mention of human rights occurs in a reference to the non-binding preamble of the Paris Agreement, thus, in turn, also rendering such a reference non-binding. The need to include social and environmental safeguards, such as assessments of the impact on local populations and ecosystems of the projects for the reduction of emissions and the consultation of local actors in the development of these projects, has once again been ignored. The need to develop such forms of protection will be determined with a two-year assessment to be implemented in the period 2026-2028. How people and the environment can be protected, for example, in the development of infrastructures for the reduction of high impact emissions, such as hydroelectric systems, remains a point of great concern. Furthermore, a lack of well-defined safeguards invalidates the provision for a complaints mechanism for cases of damage or breaches of human rights; what we may appeal against if a reference framework is not established is an evident contradiction that renders this instrument unnecessary.

After almost 50 additional hours of negotiation, a unanimous decision on the markets was unfortunately not attained, thereby determining a new tragic impasse with respect to multilateralism in the climate sector. The reasons underlying this new deadlock are mainly of an economic and political nature, but a positive sign was obtained during the final session of the work, when several Parties, including Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Tuvalu, declared that one of the issues with respect to which they could not accept a compromise was the lack of references to human rights in the text of Article 6.

A stalemate situation also regarding the Mechanism for Loss and Damage

Yet another sore point concerns the revision of the Warsaw Mechanism on ‘Loss and Damage’ (Art. 8 PA). As occurs in Art. 6, in the latest draft text there is a non-binding reference to the principles contained in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, but no other reference to human rights in the binding part of the text. The various remaining statements underline the need to consider the 'vulnerabilities' of the countries involved, adopting a form of wording which appears to imply a focus on social security but, unfortunately, the space for diverse interpretations remains too broad. Moreover, the most worrying aspect of this text is the lack of a provision concerning additional financial resources for a mechanism of compensation for damage caused by climate change which should help the most vulnerable countries to develop solid climate resilience. The text has been approved, but the issue of funding still has to be resolved. The discussion has now been postponed to 2020.

Gender action and the climate: something is being done

Some good news has arrived concerning the unexpected approval of the Gender Action Plan (Decision 3/CP.23 / GAP), a non-mandatory programme dedicated to promoting the rights of women and their representation and participation in climate policies. After two years of intense negotiations there was great concern about the sudden removal of the references to human rights previously included in the draft approved during the COP24 meetings in Katowice, and the lack of agreement on the final text presented to the COP25 Presidency. At that point it was feared that a text presenting few practical implications and might even be considered avoiding of the entire programme would be approved. Yesterday, however, a definitive text was presented which does include references to human rights and a line of funding for the programme directly linked to the Green Climate Fund.

The GAP was welcomed as a positive result. The text, which takes into account human rights and ensures a fair transition, considers the complexity of the challenges indigenous peoples have to face to protect their communities. However, there is concern that the Gender Equality Action Plan lacks clearly defined indicators and objectives to measure progress. Furthermore, although it recognizes the intersectional identities presented by females, including indigenous and disabled women, more work needs to be done to include multidimensional and non-binary social intersections that affect the manner in which people mitigate and generate resilience to climatic impact. Civil society will monitor its implementation to ensure its effective and inclusive application.

In a rather discouraging session of negotiations, while, unfortunately, the plan involves the lowest level of impact, the GAP remains the sole positive note. If the definition of the Carbon Markets does not include human rights principles and the safeguards associated with them, the definition of the methods of their implementation could once again be open to interpretations that are harmful to people, the climate and the environment. The effectiveness of the Paris Agreement could be further tarnished, and this would be an alarming prospect considering the ongoing climate crisis. If the international community that gathered at the COP25 meeting and will reunite at future COP sessions does not collaborate in a systematic and ambitious manner, it will tragically affect the future of communities and countries all over the world. We look forward to 2020, fully aware that the situation is becoming more and more critical, but we also know that civil society will not abandon the cause, both within and outside the UNFCCC.

Chiara Soletti


Published for Scienza in Rete on the website of the organisation.