Climate advocates under threat, fight to make their voices heard – world
Civil society participation is key to success in UN climate talks
Virtual this month climate negotiations several United Nations officials and governments stressed the importance of civil society participation in climate action. Yet at the top plenary session, Time is up before representatives of civil society have their turn at the microphone. While their exclusion may only be the result of poor planning, it is symptomatic of the continuing obstacles, large and small, that non-state actors face in participating in these crucial discussions.
This is not the first time that climate activists have struggled to make their voices heard in UN climate talks. In December 2018, at the 24th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP) in Katowice, Poland, Polish authorities used a law to restrict climate protests and increase police surveillance powers. They also banned at least 13 activists to enter the country and participate in the event. In 2015, during the COP 21 in France, just two weeks after the deadly attack Paris attacks, the government abused emergency powers to place at least 24 climate activists under house arrest without a judicial warrant, searched the homes of activists and seized computers.
Many climate advocates face even worse challenges in their own countries. As stated in a recent submission To the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Human Rights Watch documented that climate advocates in countries such as Brazil, France, India, Kenya, and South Africa, have faced acts of intimidation and violence (including killings and enforced disappearances), discrimination, judicial harassment and false accusations of “eco-terrorism”. Authorities in some countries have also targeted youth climate advocates and used violence or extra-legal requirements to prevent peaceful protests.
Beyond the impact at the individual level, these threats also have the potential to hamper the success of climate talks. Activists play an important role in the global climate debate by providing essential information to policymakers and the media, but can only do so if they can exercise their rights effectively.
Upstream of COP 26 conference in Glasgow in November, the UN and the UK government are expected to ensure that civil society organizations, indigenous peoples, youth groups and activists can participate safely and protest peacefully. Governments attending the conference should also tackle the crackdown on climate activists in their countries and make public the steps they are taking to end it.