Press Release

SRESCER Welcomes Decisions Taken in the Region to Face Climate Change

April 17, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental rights (SRESCER) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the decisions taken in Peru and Colombia to address the emission of greenhouse gases in the context of climate change. On the one hand, on March 15, the Peruvian Congress approved a General Law on Climate Change which aims to establish general provisions for the planning, execution, articulation, monitoring, evaluation, reporting and dissemination of the management of measures of adaptation and mitigation in the face of climate change. For its part, on April 5, the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia issued a ruling protecting the right to a healthy environment and ordering the government of that country to take concrete actions against global warming.

These decisions are issued in addition to the legislative norms approved, for example, in Mexico in 2012, Guatemala in 2013 and Honduras in 2014, which seek the adoption of practices aimed at reducing the situation of vulnerability of the environment as well as improving resilience of ecosystems through proposals for prevention and mitigation of the effects produced by climate change.

Regarding the Peruvian legislation, it is worth mentioning the importance of the recognition of traditional knowledge, the integral management of water basins, the conservation of ecosystems, the management of climate risks, as well as the obligation of the State to safeguard the right to participation of indigenous peoples. The law also highlights the incorporation of the intercultural approach, valuing the different ancestral knowledges and conceptions of well-being and development of indigenous and Afro-Peruvian peoples, as well as the human rights approach and gender equality, in which the differential impact of climate change is recognized in certain vulnerable groups and the need to counteract inequalities between men and women, which ignore the role and participation of the latter in strategies to address the issue.
In the same way, the SRESCER stresses that the judgment of the highest judicial authority in Colombia underlines the interdependence of the right to a healthy environment with the realization of other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, in which it emphasizes that the rights such as life, food, water, health and human dignity are linked and substantially determined by the environment. In this context, the Colombian High Court recognizes the Colombian Amazon as a subject of law, affirming that forests play an important role in mitigating climate change and that they can be subject to legal protection. Therefore, it ordered various national, regional and municipal authorities to adopt a short, medium and long-term action plan to protect the Colombian Amazon.

The aforementioned is complemented with the approval at the beginning of March of a binding treaty for the protection of environmental defenders in the region, which was approved by 25 governments in Latin America and the Caribbean. This agreement, promoted by ECLAC, seeks to materialize Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which aims to ensure that everyone is guaranteed the right of access to information, participation and environmental justice in order to guarantee the right to a healthy and sustainable environment for present and future generations. This instrument acquires particular importance in the face of constant threats and violations of the rights of environmental defenders in Latin America, which according to public information has become the most dangerous region for this activity, registering 115 murders in 2017 and 122 in 2016; that is around ten people killed per month for their work in the defense of lands, fauna and natural resources.

This Special Rapporteurship recognizes the work and efforts carried out by civil society for the advancement of these initiatives as well as recalls that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued the Advisory Opinion 23-17 in which it indicated that States must regulate and supervise activities under their jurisdiction that may cause significant damage to the environment. The Opinion also indicated that States have to apply the precautionary principle in the face of possible serious or irreversible damages to it, even in the absence of scientific certainty. This is due to the existence of an undeniable relationship between the protection of the right to a healthy environment and the realization of other human rights, insofar as the degradation of ecosystems might affect the effective enjoyment of such rights.

The SRESCER  emphasizes that the countries of the hemisphere have a commitment in the framework of the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals to adopt urgent measures to combat climate change and its effects which requires a coordinated and cooperative work of the international community because it is an issue that clearly transcends borders. In this framework, the SRESCER welcomes the adoption of these decisions as fundamental steps aimed at protecting the right to a healthy environment and other related human rights, recalling that a formal recognition of this right must be accompanied for the compliance and effective application of its content. States must assume this endeavor as their own legal duty based on the general obligations of respect and ensure human rights.

It also calls on the States of the region to ratify the aforementioned treaty in order to legally strengthen environmental protection, the defenders of it and the Inter-American corpus iuris on the subject. Finally, the Special Rapporteurship is at the disposal of OAS Member States to provide technical assistance and cooperation within the framework of its mandate related to this topic.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an Office specially created to support the IACHR in its work on the promotion and protection of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights throughout the Americas.

No. 083/18