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Protecting human rights amid the climate crisis

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos - CDN Digital | December 26,2019 - 07:27 AM

Will the Christmas storm Ursula awaken many and join the legions of activists here and abroad to push government and the business sector to do what is right and urgent – by drastically reducing carbon emissions, protect habitats and people, and stop projects that destroy our natural life support systems’ capacity to  fight climate change?

Coming so close to typhoon Tisoy that wrecked havoc to residents in  Northern Samar, Catanduanes, Albay, Camarines Sur, and Sorsogon almost 3 weeks ago, typhoon Ursula hit the Visayas region during Christmas holidays.

Another wake-up call for those who deny the dire reality called climate change, it brought still-to-be-accounted-for deaths of loved ones and massive destruction to nature, livelihoods, homes and infrastructures in the areas most affected by strong winds and heavy rainfall.

The Climate Risk Profile of our country, reads as follows: “The Philippines is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, increased frequency of extreme weather events, rising temperatures and extreme rainfall. This is due to its high exposure to natural hazards (cyclones, landslides, floods, droughts), dependence on climate-sensitive natural resources and vast coastlines where all major cities and the majority of the population reside. The Philippines lies in the world’s most cyclone-prone region, averaging 19–20 cyclones each year, of which 7–9 make landfall. Sea levels in the Philippines are rising faster than the global average, increasing the hazard posed by storm surges and threatening permanent inundation of low-lying areas. A rich yet increasingly depleted natural and marine resources base supports livelihoods through fisheries, agriculture, forestry, energy, mining and tourism and provides critical ecosystem services such as shoreline protection, flood control, soil stability and habitats for biodiversity.”

Despite strong laws to make our institutions, natural resources and people resilient to the devastating impacts of climate change, government has been lethargic in responding to and addressing the climate crisis in a holistic, participatory and science-based approach.

The December 20 decision of the Netherlands’ supreme court, upon petition of the non-profit Urgenda Foundation, is truly inspiring. It required the Dutch government to cut its carbon emission by at least 25 percent compared with 1990 levels by the end of 2020, as it had explicit duties to protect its citizens’ human rights in the face of climate change.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet “welcomed the Court’s acceptance that human rights obligations are central to the response to the climate change.”

“Climate change is already severely damaging human rights – and that impact is growing fast,” she said. “The recognition by the highest Dutch court that the Netherlands’ human rights obligations provide a legal basis to compel stronger and more rapid action by the Government is vitally important. This landmark ruling provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe – and around the world – to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights, and I pay tribute to the civil society groups which initiated this action.”

Coming on the heels of the Philippines Commission of Human Rights Report that polluting business may be held accountable for human rights impacts arising from the climate crisis, the ruling should send tsunami-like waves of response from people all over the globe, including ours, to assert their rights even against governments who do not perform the mandates of their office to integrate and mainstream climate change impacts and human rights in their policies and programs.

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