June 2, 2022, Stockholm, Sweden–This week delegates from governments, non-governmental organizations, Indigenous communities, and other stakeholders, gathered in Sweden for the Stockholm+50 conference hosted by the United Nations. The event marked the 50th anniversary of 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment and is intended to accelerate global action on environmental issues including climate change.
Speaking at the Leadership Dialogues, EarthRights Climate Change Policy Advisor Natalia Gomez Pena issued the following remarks:
“Today my message is this: We will not achieve a healthy planet until world leaders recognize and address the human rights abuses imposed by the climate crisis. This includes confronting the growing violence against people who defend our rivers, lands, and natural resources.
“I’m from Colombia, a megadiverse country, where communities already suffer the consequences of the climate crisis. It is also a country where environmental defenders experience increased violence, a country where the price to pay to defend the environment can be your life. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Colombia.
“Looking back at the 1972 Stockholm Conference, we can see the seeds of a human rights-based approach to environmental protection. In the decades that followed, these seeds inspired Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and its promise of inclusive environmental governance. However, communities today are still not properly consulted on projects that harm their health and environment. Those responsible for the climate crisis have not been held accountable. Those responsible for the violation of environmental rights enjoy impunity.
“Worldwide, earth rights defenders are increasingly targeted with violence, harassment, and criminalization. This is happening from the U.S. to Peru to Myanmar and is especially true for Indigenous defenders. Most climate-damaging projects are located in indigenous territories, endangering the lives and livelihoods of already vulnerable communities. As the climate crisis worsens, so does the violence against those protecting our environment.
“The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly documented the pattern of repression and silencing of opposition movements in a report presented last year to the UN General Assembly. Yet, at international climate negotiations, there has been no recognition of the situation and role of environmental defenders. At the upcoming COP27 Climate Convention, governments should recognize the critical work of environmental defenders in addressing the climate crisis.
“Today my call is clear. We cannot achieve a healthy planet if environmental and climate policies are not rooted in human rights. We will not achieve a healthy planet unless there is real protection of the rights of environmental defenders and communities on the frontlines.”
Kate Fried, EarthRights International