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In face of climate change and unfair mining practices, where is human dignity?

In face of climate change and unfair mining practices, where is human dignity?

A young Sipacapa indigenous woman, stands in front of the main pit at the Marlin mine, in Guatemala. ©Sean Hawkey/WCC

04 October 2017

A 25 September panel discussion in Geneva offered compelling examples of how climate change and unethical practices in the extractive industry are robbing people of both their human rights and their human dignity.

Organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), Franciscans International, and Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU) as a side event to the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, the discussion was held under the theme of “Climate Change, the Extractive Industry and Human Dignity: Ethical Perspectives.”

Sister Jayanti Kirpalani, BKWSU director, reflected that a shift is apparent as faith-based organizations are now much more a part of the international scene, taking part in panels, conferences and debate. “They can have a special and unique impact. Whilst science and research informs people, it may not touch them. On the other hand faith-rooted organizations speaking from the heart can reach people more profoundly and can bring about massive change,” said Kirpalani.

Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for Economic and Ecological Justice, spoke about the effects of the extractive industry on the environment and human rights, giving concrete examples of abuses in Burma, India, Malawi, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.  “Mining and other extractive industries affect people’s economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights, and indigenous peoples often pay the highest price,” she said.

Emerging economies are becoming huge consumers of mineral products as well as producers, Peralta explained. “There has also been a relaxation of regulations in many countries as they attract lucrative mining companies at the expense of the environment and   communities,” she said. “The extractive sector - oil, gas, coal and mineral mining –  is an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and hence climate change.”

Beverly Longid, representative from the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation, gave a personal testimony, growing up  in the Philippines where 70% of mining takes place on indigenous peoples’ land.  In her home area there has been a mining industry since colonization.

“Now the river of my youth has dried up due to the industry’s practices, and land downstream can no longer be cultivated as there is either a water shortage or the water is polluted and toxic,” she said. “The people have also experienced the sinking of land from mining operations and numerous mining accidents. The environment is highly militarized by government armies and mining industry private security forces.”

She also asserted that indigenous peoples are not against development or mining so long as it is beneficial to all and does not involve the loss of land and life. “Indigenous peoples can share their knowledge on how to preserve and protect the land for sustainable development,” she noted.

Benjamin Schalter, human rights officer, Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, stated his appreciation for the way in which many faith-based organisations empower people to be the stewards of our planet. “All people should live a life of human dignity and climate change robs them of their rights, disproportionately in many cases - indigenous peoples, women and girls.”

He also drew attention to the way in which court cases against the industry or governments are becoming more prevalent, becoming an important way in which people can protect their rights and ecosystems.

The Human Rights Council has been mandated to particularly address the effects of climate change on the rights of children and migrants and has passed resolutions to protect these most vulnerable groups.

He concluded by saying that the problems surrounding climate change can seem overwhelming and one can feel that one has no control.  “However, renewable energy technology is advancing, and we have greater capacity to hold industry and government to account,” he said. “What works is showing that climate change is about people, not just economics. “

Learn more about the WCC's work on care for Creation and climate justice

Economy of Life for All Now: An Ecumenical Action Plan for a New International Financial and Economic Architecture