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WCC general secretary highlights “right to hope” in a panel on climate change and human rights

WCC general secretary highlights “right to hope” in a panel on climate change and human rights

WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit in a panel on climate change and human rights at the United Nations offices in Geneva.

11 March 2015

In a high level panel on Climate Change and Human Rights held at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said that despite all negative conditions “we have the right to hope” – not as a matter of passive waiting but as an active process towards justice and peace, in which human rights should play a key role.

The panel held on 6 March was part of a one-day discussion on climate change at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council.

“The climate change data enable us to know as fact what we already believed in our different religions looking at the world as 'creation' – making us accountable for how we steward it,” said Tveit.

“We are together in this blue planet as one humanity. Our actions have a positive or negative impact on the basic conditions for the life of others – of all. Therefore, we need to see this in the perspective of universal human rights,” he added.

The WCC general secretary mentioned his visits to the WCC member churches in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific, as well as in countries close to the Arctic. “I have realized that for many communities climate change is a terrible threat. They are suffering some of its consequences: the rise of sea level and salinization of fresh water, the increase in frequency and intensity of tropical storms, the change in rainfall patterns, droughts and floods, and changing temperatures which have direct impact on their food security and sovereignty,” Tveit said.

Tveit also remembered words from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, when he said, “We cannot separate our concern for human dignity, human rights or social justice from concern for ecological preservation and sustainability.” The Ecumenical Patriarch made this comment during his visit to Guiuan in the Philippines on an invitation from the French President François Hollande to express solidarity with victims of typhoons and to call for proper preparations for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris.

While the WCC general secretary focused on the “right to hope”, he also reaffirmed the call to establish a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights. He stated that Human Rights Council resolutions have highlighted effects of climate change on human rights, and Special Mandate holders have reported on climate change in relationship to the right to food, right to water and sanitation, the rights of indigenous peoples and migration.

The two panels organized on Climate Change and Human Rights were opened with a video message from the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon who highlighted climate change threats especially for the most vulnerable communities. “It is time for climate action,” said Ban Ki-moon.

Among other speakers on the panel was President of Kiribati Anote Tong, who stressed that “migration with dignity” must be ensured. He said that “islands in the Pacific will soon be under water unless we do something significant. We need to realize that many of our people will be relocating.”

Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy on Climate Change and former president of Ireland, highlighted the Geneva pledge on Human Rights and Climate Action, adopted last month and already signed by 20 countries.

The Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu, strongly defended the sovereignty of states affected by climate change.

One of the panels was moderated by Prof. John Knox, the UN Independent Expert on Environment and Human Rights, who recalled the statement signed by UN Special Procedures calling to integrate Human Rights in the UNFCCC negotiations.

The WCC also co-organized a side event on the same day when the Geneva Climate Change Concertation Group (GeCCco) and the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change and Human Rights, among other non-governmental organizations, assessed climate change at the Human Rights Council and suggested ways of moving forward.

Read full text of presentation from the WCC general secretary

Pilgrims of climate justice plan to impact COP 21 in Paris (WCC news release of 23 January 2015)

Statement from the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change 2014

WCC’s work on climate justice and care for creation