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How to tackle the climate crisis by joining up and protecting human rights

Vane Nunes ©, 2021

As world leaders prepare for the Cop26 summit to fight climate change, the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 has already given them food for thought on the challenges ahead.

At #RightsForum21 delegates examined the critical intersection between rights and the environment. They were clear that protecting people and the planet are two sides of the same coin.

“It is important to tackle new and emerging challenges,” Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, told the human rights champions in Vienna.

One of the vital areas she sees is the environment and human rights protection. Others are artificial intelligence and violence against women.

Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), joined the Secretary General in issuing a rallying cry for those present to unite against these emerging challenges.

He said: “The competence of human rights is thrown into question. It has to be meaningful. It has to make a serious contribution to fixing the climate crisis.”

He called for everyone who cares about the protection of human rights to ‘join-up’ and work together to find common ground.

“We need to work better together for human rights. I am an optimist, but we have to recognise how serious the current situation is…

“Human rights are described as modernity’s greatest achievement, but if we are careless we will lose them.”

Attendees at the Forum were joined by thousands more online. They heard from scores of speakers with a shared passion for fundamental rights.

Interfaith expert and academic Hajar Al-Kaddo echoed Michael’s view that a united front is the best way to combat real issues such as climate change.

“Imagine the potential,” Hajar said. “Muslim youth could be a huge grassroots movement to tackle climate change if we were not always fighting issues around islamophobia and human rights.

“Discrimination has a very negative impact on what it means to be a citizen here in Europe. I am not here to bring negativity. But protecting European values is protecting everyone’s values.”

“We need more courageous leadership. Not just from a religious and political perspective, we need more females, people who look exactly like me, people from a diverse background.

Alongside joining-up and presenting a united front, we must all first recognise there is a problem, the Forum heard.

We need to ‘wake-up’ from our complacency and acknowledge that our human rights are under threat.

German environment activist Luisa Neubauer said: “Proclaiming a status quo prevents you from achieving. Germany is the so-called climate champion. Having this title stops us being that.

“We are living in an illusion. It stops you from opening your eyes to existing inequalities. It stops you fighting for it.

But I am completely optimistic. We have seen what is possible if people start fighting for their future.”

Joining-up and finding a common vocabulary is an important step to tackling all the human rights challenges we are facing, not just climate change.

From discrimination to artificial intelligence, the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 covered it all.

Did you miss any of the discussions? You can now watch the session recordings online.

Simply click on the session you are interested in watching in the programme.

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We will be publishing more information about the Forum outcomes soon.

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