ODVV Interview: Empowering women will be crucial in combating climate change

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Publish Date : 07/24/2022 8:49
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Described by the United Nations as the most immediate human rights threat globally, climate change has already put more than 1 million species at risk of extinction, and 11 percent of the world’s population, equivalent to nearly 800 million people, are acutely vulnerable to the byproducts of climate change including droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather events.

Over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has been inflicting casualties, upending lives, garnering increasing attention and draining the resources of the world countries, whether they had the wherewithal to cope with the rare health emergency or not. But as we gradually wean ourselves off the most traumatic days of the outbreak, we are reminded that one of the most insurmountable challenges facing humanity looms large and remains intractable: climate change. 

Described by the United Nations as the most immediate human rights threat globally, climate change has already put more than 1 million species at risk of extinction, and 11 percent of the world’s population, equivalent to nearly 800 million people, are acutely vulnerable to the byproducts of climate change including droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather events. The world’s vegetated ecosystem is a primary victim of the current trend of global warming, and 800,000 hectares of mangrove forests are destroyed every year, which means they can disappear within the next century if their depletion continues at this rate.

Coming to an accommodation with a warming world in which access to resources is being increasingly disrupted and socioeconomic development markedly slowed down requires dedication and investment. The price tag associated with adaptation and mitigation efforts is at least $140 billion annually, which appears to be staggering at first blush, but in fact it represents less than 0.2% of the global Gross Domestic Product, and it is possible to procure the funds needed to overcome the worst effects of climatic variations through collective global action.

Petra Minnerop is an associate professor of international law at Durham University’s law school. A member of Durham Center for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences, she is the academic lead of the Durham University for UNFCCC engagement and climate change and director of the Sustainable Development Research Center. She is also a member of the World Commission on Environmental Law.

Organization for Defending Victims of Violence has interviewed Dr. Minnerop about the human rights implications of climate change, the roadblocks to litigating the global climate emergency and the vision for the fulfillment of the Paris Agreement goals.


Q: You have been running different projects pertaining to university engagement with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The 193 parties to the Paris Agreement have each presented at least one nationally determined contribution (NDC) for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and 151 of them have submitted an updated NDC. Considering the non-fulfillment of the $100 billion financial aid by developed countries to mitigation and adaptation projects in the developing countries and the economic complexities caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, is it fair to expect these goals will be realized within the broader ambition of capping the global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius?
A: This question raises two key issues. One is whether the NDCs will be implemented through national measures. The second is how the lack of climate finance makes this especially more difficult for developing and least developed countries as well as Small Island Developing States.
A submitted NDC should of course be implemented, this is an essential part of the collective trust-building exercise that the submission of individual NDCs represents. This trust underpins the international collaboration which the Paris Agreement seeks to facilitate to meet the temperature target to which all parties agreed. In my view, implementing NDCs through effective national measures is also a matter of the rule of law. The hopes are of course that COP27 can raise the ambition on finance.


Q: Based on the forecasts made by the World Meteorological Organization, with a probability of 93%, one of the years in the 2022-26 period will be the hottest year on record, overtaking 2016 that currently holds the title. This means the global warming will temporarily exceed the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. How concerned are you about this prognosis, and do you believe the new development will seriously threaten the community of nations?
A: I interpret this as a non-legal question that asks for my opinion. Yes, I am concerned about the visible signs of climate change as well as the scientific evidence that concerns less visible developments that are nevertheless dangerous, the inequalities and vulnerabilities that climate change exacerbates, and the fact that the next generation will have to live in a fundamentally changed world.
I also think that the human capacity for innovation and problem resolution is tremendous, and that we need to focus on that to effectuate change.
I do not agree with the suggestion that exceeding the Paris Agreement’s temperature target is a new development. The international community has known for a while that even if we are achieving the low-greenhouse gas emission scenario, the temperature of around 1.5 degree Celsius will be reached by 2040. It is a question if we can maintain it, thus avoiding an even more dangerous increase thereafter. Today’s climate reality confirms scientific predictions from ten, twenty years ago.


Q: A total of 46 countries are identified by the United Nations as the Least Developed Countries and 40% of the world’s poorest population lives in these territories. These countries are most impacted by the extreme weather conditions, and their vulnerable ecosystems lack the capacity to cope with climatic shocks. How is it possible to help these fragile economies beef up their resilience against climate change with the least adverse effects on their citizens?
A: This is a complex issue. Some of these countries are rich in fossil fuel resources. However, adding to the infrastructure for fossil fuel exploitation will come at a high cost for these particularly vulnerable countries – and of course it will add to further climate change. Instead, these countries should be encouraged to use market-based instruments under Article 6 of Paris Agreement, to attract investment in renewable energy. The Rulebook for Article 6 was adopted at COP26, and this should now be fleshed out through best practices.
Least Developed Countries and developing countries could become the true leaders in the energy transition if they use these instruments in a sustainable manner, that integrates climate measures with sustainable development strategies and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Empowering women will be crucial in these countries to facilitate the energy transition and wider transformational changes that are needed across societies.

Q: One of the primary drivers of climate change is air pollution caused by industrial activities and the use of cars with low safety and emission standards. It is reported that 9 million people die annually due to air pollution, and developing countries in Asia and Africa will continue to struggle with poor air quality for years. Is it possible to achieve mechanisms to embrace green, renewable energies and curtail pollution in countries most suffering from this menace?
A: Yes, addressing air pollution and climate change will be mutually beneficial for these interlinked challenges; there are many synergies that can be used, including for the protection of biodiversity. We need immediate measures in communities; however, they must be supplemented through measures at scale, for example national standards that set limits for air pollution and targets set in law, to ensure that transformational changes take place. Only standards and targets that are enshrined in law will pave the way for judicial review and accountability.

Q: Climate change is judged to be a major impediment to the full enjoyment of human rights. Taking legal action against governments for their failure to address climate change resulting in human rights violations has morphed into an emerging trend. Between 2015 and mid-2020, a total of 40 litigations were brought against governments before national courts and international organizations. Does legal action concerning environmental challenges to hold governments accountable remain a symbolic gesture or will it yield concrete results?
A: It has already been very effective in some cases, for example, if you take the case of Neubauer v. Germany, a case that was brought under the German Basic Law. In that case, the court re-conceptualized the meaning of the term interference as including the “advance interference like effect” of current climate targets. This allowed the court to apply the stricter constitutional standards that an interference with basic rights must comply with to be lawful. The court found that the Climate Protection Act was partly unconstitutional because it shifted the greenhouse gas emission reduction burdens to future generations, and it did not prescribe how the state was going to achieve the 2050 net-zero target through interim targets after 2030.
The effect of this decision has already been significant, the country has brought the net-zero target forward to 2045 and included new interim targets for the different sectors. This is also an example of a case where only the fact that the targets were set in law, the federal constitutional court was able to review these.

Q: A range of human rights including the right to life, health, food, adequate standard of living, shelter and water are jeopardized by the climate change. In your perspective, as we learn the future wars will be over water and resources, and the collective health of the humanity is undermined by a deadly pandemic, which are the basic human rights most threatened because of climate change?
A: The Supreme Court of Brazil was the first court in July 2022 to recognize the Paris Agreement even as a human rights treaty. The adverse effect of climate change on human rights will depend on the region and the measures that are adopted for adaptation, as well as on country-specific adaptive limits. From a legal perspective, it is important to note that the intersection between environmental law and human rights doctrine is, by now, well-established.
For many people, the right to life will be directly threatened by climate change, whereas for others, it might start with the right to health or food. Research has demonstrated that those living in poorer communities are hit hardest and have less access to adaptation measures, and the very young and populations over 65 are more at risk. Many people have lost their lives due to climate change, and in Europe, heatwaves are already the deadliest weather extremes.

Q: Last year, ten of the most destructive weather events in the world, including the Hurricane Ida, left economic damages adding up to $170 billion. The frequency of such events is on the rise in the developing world. Has the international community come to an awareness to prioritize countering such high-cost, harmful incidents precipitated by the irreversible trend of global warming? Or are governments still preoccupied with unessential priorities such as investing in their militaries, cracking down on their citizens’ civil liberties and funding publicity campaigns?
A: This question is not specific about the law, and we can all observe how political events push climate change further down on the list of priorities in the political agenda. There is a significant risk that we are not only failing in protecting future generations from climate change, but that we are also not preparing them for a life with climate change.


By: Kourosh Ziabari


“ ODVV Interview: Empowering women will be crucial in combating climate change ”