Celebrating significant victories for people and planet at the UN

This is a guest blog from Cédric Chatelanat, Institutional Development Manager with Franciscans International, a human rights project partner of Misean Cara’s through the Franciscan Missionary Union. 

The recognition of a right that can be a game changer for environmental protection and ‘care for our common home’ plus a dedicated UN expert that can finally expose the missing links between climate change impacts and human rights.

This is what Franciscans International and allies helped obtain on 8th October, when the UN Human Rights Council adopted two landmark resolutions after years of sustained collective advocacy.

The universal recognition of a Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment is a particularly important step at a time that the degradation of our common home is felt by all of us. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are regularly exposed to damage from human activity.

The recognition of this right and the global understanding of what this right means will give extra leverage and tools to those people caring for our planet to demand progressive environmental policies. It will also help secure protection for ecosystems and justice for communities that are being damaged by human activity – often for corporate profits.

Time has already shown that the inclusion of this right at a national level (in Costa Rica, South Africa and Colombia, for example), and in regional legislation, has been a key stepping stone for greater environmental protection measures. Similarly, we expect the appointment of a new expert on human rights and climate change  (what’s called a Special Rapporteur) to play a key role in human rights and social justice activists being able to  highlight the situations of people that are severely affected by climate change, and providing evidence-based guidance to help protect their lives and dignity.

After a long campaign to have this mandate approved, the Special Rapporteur (expected to be appointed in March 2022)  can begin to channel efforts to ensure that climate policies and legislation are better grounded in respect for  human rights, and to publicly hold states to account.

Relentlessly ‘walking the talk’

Part of our role as civil society consists of holding governments to account – and that sometimes means being a thorn in their side.

In Franciscans International’s human rights advocacy, supported by Misean Cara, that means we collect and validate evidence on real situations of concern to grassroots partners. With analysis rooted in evidence and human rights obligations, we bring analysis and legal guidance to decision-makers to urge, encourage and cajole them to take actions that support communities’ and environmental human rights – or at least not oppose them.

This work takes patience, with painstaking evidence-building, analysis and development of collective advocacy; coordinated meetings with policy-makers, diplomats and UN staff; and collaborative work across organisations, networks and regions — often over many years.

For instance, the first call by Franciscans International and allies to establish a UN mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change goes back to 2010. Given the complexities and time periods, we are grateful to have had the backing of  organisations like Misean Cara and the Franciscan Missionary Union, who believe in the potential and added-value of linking grassroots missionary projects to international advocacy to help both people and planet. 

Franciscan Brother Angel Cortez, OFM, Vice-Director of The General Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), at a pre-pandemic climate demonstration outside the UN headquarters in Geneva to urge position action.

As Saint Francis of Assisi said: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching”.

Putting our words into action – and pushing States to do the same – is a continuous endeavour to which Franciscans at the UN have committed. When we join forces with like-minded organisations (both faith-based and secular) and states that wish to progress human rights,  we can achieve far-reaching  results, such as the two victories at this 48th Human Rights Council.

Looking ahead

At the same time, Franciscans International will not be sitting back on its laurels: we will continue to pursue our human rights advocacy to ensure that these two resolutions bear fruit for people and planet.

On the right to a healthy environment, this will mean renewing  our lobbying efforts to now have all nationsaffirm this progressive right at the UN General Assembly in New York, hopefully in December.

As for the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, the call for nominations has just been opened. Franciscans International and our allies will put in efforts to ensure a competent and representative candidate is eventually appointed in March 2022.

Meanwhile, the next pivotal moment for international climate action is the UN Climate Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November, where states are meant to present their updated commitments to tackle climate change under the Paris Agreement.

Alongside Pope Francis and the Laudato Si’ Movement, Franciscans International and its allies in the long struggle for climate justice and rights, will be present to demand that our leaders meet the moment. In support of faith actors’ contribution, we invite you to sign the Healthy Planet, Healthy People petition, which will support our advocacy:

Through COP26 and beyond, let us all continue our complementary efforts, at all levels, to make the world a safer place for present and future generations.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” -St. Francis of Assisi

For more information:

– On the right to a healthy environment: UN News, “The right to a clean and healthy environment: 6 things you need to know

– Global civil society call “The Time is Now

– On the Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change: “A UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change? Regional perspectives” (Franciscans International, Center for International Environmental Law, 2021)

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