8 measures to drive climate justice based on human rights

A publication recently launched by Conectas shows how to tackle the climate crisis, with a view to guaranteeing rights and combating environmental racism

Vista aérea de uma área desmatada e queimada às margens da Transamazônica (AM), em 22 de setembro de 2022. (Foto de MICHAEL DANTAS / AFP) Vista aérea de uma área desmatada e queimada às margens da Transamazônica (AM), em 22 de setembro de 2022. (Foto de MICHAEL DANTAS / AFP)

The situation is urgent: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued a red alert about the possibility of the world reaching a global temperature increase of 1.5°C by 2030, which could have extremely negative impacts on fauna, flora and the most vulnerable people on the planet.

For Brazil to take effective, fair and inclusive climate action, it is necessary to integrate human and socio-environmental rights – guided by climate justice, the combat of environmental racism and the guarantee of democracy. 

With this in mind, Conectas has prepared an action plan with eight measures, proposing ways to adjust Brazilian climate governance and step up the protection against rights violations. The proposals are part of the publication “Driving Climate Action based on Human Rights”, released by Conectas in September at a seminar of the National Justice Council and available for free download. Click here to access the full version of the report and here for the executive summary. 

1- Guarantee public and grassroots participation and access to information and climate education 

The country should create new venues for democratic and representative participatory governance on the topic, effectively guarantee public access to environmental information and empower ministries and bodies that work directly on climate management and human rights protection. 

Right now, there are two urgent measures to be taken. The first is the ratification of the Escazú Agreement, signed in 2018 in Costa Rica, which regulates environmental and social matters and reinforces a country’s public and formal commitment to effective public participation and access to information on environmental issues. The second is the creation of a National Climate Security Authority that has, on the one hand, a cross-cutting role in Brazil’s public administration regarding oversight and dissemination of information and, on the other, public and grassroots participation, particularly by indigenous and traditional peoples.

2- Centralize class, race and gender issues and tackle environmental racism

Some populations feel the impacts of the climate crisis more acutely, in particular women, girls and groups that already face a state of social vulnerability, namely indigenous people, Afro-Brazilians and people from traditional communities. What do we mean when we say environmental racism? We mean the unequal distribution of the burdens and benefits between people or communities. 

In recent years, grassroots leaders and particularly indigenous women such as Txai Suruí and Alice Pataxó have become spokespersons for the Brazilian grassroots response to authoritarianism with masculinist and colonial characteristics. The federal government needs to empower and provide institutional support to the actions of these and other leaders, promoting an intersectional approach to the measures taken in relation to climate. 

In addition to recognizing the dimension of gender in colonial history and of logic persisting in the climate crisis, Brazil should promote specific public policies for the women most affected by climate change and guarantee the participation of women in bodies such as the National Climate Security Authority.

3- Guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples and quilombola and other traditional communities

Protecting the human rights of these communities is extremely important for climate action. In recent years, however, we have seen enormous resistance by the last federal government to the demarcation of indigenous and traditional lands, together with a profound disregard that caused violations of these peoples’ rights, including possible crimes of genocide. This resulted in more environmental degradation in several locations, increasing the damage to the climate and placing these populations in danger that has been ongoing and potentially irreversible. 

Now, Brazil should once again implement the constitutional policies of demarcation and adequate environmental management in these territories. In addition to resuming previous demarcation processes, the country should adapt its institutional support to the realities developed through direct grassroots climate action in recent years and also reinforce the integration of the management of these lands with Conservation Units as part of “mosaic management” committees.

4- Expand sustainability through the guaranteeing of social and economic rights 

The reduction of social vulnerabilities is a key part of the action for climate adaptation: fair income, food security, access to health, water and decent work help promote climate resilienceAnd what is climate resilience? It is the ability to recover or reduce weaknesses in the face of episodes such as floods and extreme droughts.

In Brazil, the government should work to enforce social rights through climate-sensitive public policies, and it can work together with social movements to guarantee food security and sovereignty. In addition to encouraging practices such as urban gardening and agroforestry production, it should promote closer ties between family and community farming and urban centers, including through the use of climate and environmental communication and education campaigns for consumers in cities. 

5- Protection of human rights in the face of green energy transition measures

Renewable energies, electric means of transport and low-carbon agricultural technologies should be encouraged. However, the mechanisms, technologies and public policies developed for decarbonization must take into account the problem of unequal distribution of the burdens and benefits in the globalized world.

Wind and solar power projects, for example, can have negative social and environmental impacts when considering the production chain. Although preferable to fossil fuels and hydroelectric dams, greater demand for wind and solar energy drives the demand for rare minerals and leads to more mining, including illegal wildcat mining. As such, the Brazilian State should actively deny environmental licensing for these initiatives when the negative impacts are unacceptable or outweigh the benefits of the project.

6- Strengthening accountability mechanisms and the guarantee of human rights 

Have you heard of climate litigation? Generally speaking, they are lawsuits and legal measures filed by people or organizations, or even governments, against companies, governments and other organizations whose actions contribute to global warming, excessive emissions of greenhouse gases and the destruction of ecosystems, while violating human and fundamental rights. It is a way of holding these actors accountable.

In Brazil, environmental legislation and jurisprudence already encompass several important measures and include cases of climate litigation against private organizations, which should gain more traction in the years ahead. Currently, most of the lawsuits in progress in the country have been directed at the State, due to its recent failure to implement public climate policies.

7- Development of adaptation and compensation policies

Although there is an international consensus on the need for climate change adaptation policies, there is little agreement on how to implement them. Mainly because the vast majority of climate finance funds are focused on mitigating damage that has already occurred. Brazil’s own National Adaptation Plan, from 2016, is outdated and needs to be modernized with public participation.

For events that have already taken place, it is necessary to compensate for economic and non-economic losses and damages to the affected individuals and communities, including for the impacts on culture, housing, land and health. And to avoid and reduce future losses and damages, plans need to be drawn up that include investing in resilience and strengthening risk management and early warning systems.

8- Protection of people who work as defenders of environmental and social issues, specifically climate change

Brazil is one of the countries where the most environmental and social defenders are attacked and murdered, especially in rural areas. In 2021, 27 such activists were killed nationwide. They can be added to the more than 300 people murdered in conflicts over the use of land and natural resources, only until the end of 2019 and in the Brazilian Amazon region, according to data from the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission and Human Rights Watch Brazil.

To guarantee climate action and respect for the human rights of these defenders, the country needs to take action to establish a safe environment for them. This requires a recovery and strengthening of institutions, effective oversight actions and an effective implementation of public protection policies, including through a posture and a discourse that supports and enhances climate action.

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