Another round of climate negotiations recently ended in Bonn and governments failed yet again to deliver real climate justice. The latest IPCC reports clearly state that now is the time to act to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Countries that signed the Paris Agreement met again this month in Bonn, Germany, in advance of COP27 in Egypt this November. 

Antonio Guterres is the UN Secretary General

Climate Disasters Abound

Despite the clear science and the impacts that people from all regions of the world already suffer, delegates failed to act and deliver climate action that effectively protects people’s rights. Since March, an unparalleled heat wave has gripped India and Pakistan. Meanwhile,  heat waves, floods, tornados, fires, and hailstorms have plagued 48 out of 50 states in the U.S. this year. Such extreme weather events and other climate disasters take an immense toll on people, especially group such as Indigenous peoples, frontline and poor communities, children, women, people with disabilities, and immigrants who already face discrimination and marginalization.

Missed Chances

The disconnect between the Bonn climate conference and the real world where people are dying every day because of climate change is unbelievable. The Bonn talks seemed to happen in an alternate reality where delegates talked about finance, mitigation, and adaptation but failed to recognize the intrinsic link to people and their rights and that the failure of countries to decisively act on climate is fueling an unprecedented human rights crisis. This includes the growing violence against environmental defenders that oppose climate-damaging industries.  

Developed countries blocked making “loss and damage”–compensation for climate harms–an individual item in the agenda for COP27, even though this is a key priority of climate justice for small island states and developing countries. People affected by the climate crisis are already losing their homes and livelihoods. Ensuring loss and damage provisions would mean that countries would guarantee that they have access to remedies. 

Last year, governments agreed to a dialogue on loss and damage after a proposal to channel funding from major emitters to small islands and developing countries failed to pass.  As civil society feared, the dialogue this year seems to be merely for show.

Measuring Climate Progress

During Bonn, governments also started to develop one of the most important tools with the Paris Agreements: the Global Stocktake (GST), a process for measuring the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The outcome of this process is meant to guide countries in enhancing and updating their climate commitments. GST is essentially an evaluation of how we are doing (pretty badly) and what needs to be done (act now).

In Bonn, the GST process started with a set of technical dialogues focusing on adaptation, mitigation, and finance. This process must also take into account the human rights impacts of climate change. This means taking stock of mitigation and adaptation measures that are not designed with respect for a community’s rights. Recently, we saw news of the tragic land displacement of Massai Indigenous communities by the government of Tanzania in the name of conservation. This is a story that should be considered when governments discuss conservation as a nature-based mitigation measure. However, there were almost no references to human rights considerations in governments’ interventions in the GST. Moreover, the big elephant in the room–the need to phase out fossil fuels to achieve 1.5 degrees of warming–was not addressed at all. 

A Lot of ‘bla bla bla’ on Human Rights

At the Bonn negotiations, governments also advanced workaround Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE–(article 12 of the Paris agreement), which is the only article of the Paris Agreement that specifically refers to human rights. ACE is the workstream related to public participation, public access to information, education, training, public awareness, and international cooperation. Three of these six elements–the right to access information, the right to participation, and the right to environmental education–are internationally-recognized human rights. However, the disconnect that permeated the Bonn Climate Conference was also true for ACE. 

Last year, in a very disappointing conclusion to COP26,  ACE governments swiftly moved to adopt a new Glasgow work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment with no reference to human rights. Governments this year came to Bonn to start the process to adopt a new action plan under the Glasgow work program.

For civil society, this is an opportunity to, in some part, remedy the mistakes of the past. Parties should deliver an action plan that can really become a tool to enhance participatory climate action, including by recognizing the many restrictions that still exist in the world to exercise the rights ACE talks about, and how such restrictions are particularly affecting defenders on the frontlines working for climate justice

When the negotiations started this month, governments publicly affirmed the importance of including rights-based activities in the ACE action plan, but as the negotiations progressed, this did not happen. Governments will now go to Egypt to finalize the ACE action plan with a draft text that is completely disconnected from people and our rights.

Missing Seats at the Table for COP27

The cherry on top of the Bonn conference was the item under “Arrangement for Intergovernmental Meetings” where governments discussed how to enhance the engagement of observers, or civil society, in the process. Civil society observers were denied the opportunity to speak, once again proving the enormous gap between the hallways of the Bonn Climate Change Conference venue and participatory climate action. Observers are now preparing for the Egypt COP27 with growing concerns about the restrictions imposed on civil society and frontline defenders to access this forum, including the rising hotel costs set by the Egyptian government. 

Governments should increase the ambition of their climate commitments, make sure that the GST takes into account the impacts of climate change in the rights of communities, and adopt specific language in the ACE action plan to address the barriers in the implementation of the rights to access to information and public participation, including protecting defenders in the frontlines.

As UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez recently suggested, governments cannot continue to drag their feet when the people and science are so clear. We need to act now and COP27 should deliver climate justice to the people, especially those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.