Speech on Human Rights and Sustainable Development


Human Rights and Sustainable Development

Thank you for inviting me to address the fifth World Forum on Human Rights here in Nantes in France. I would like to cover three things in my speech.
  • The impacts of Rio and its commitment to human rights
  • The landscape of the new development goals for 2015
  • What human rights activists should focus on


Some of the NGOs and media presented Rio+20 as a failure. That is not how I see it and I believe they contribute to weakening multilateralism.

In 1992 I once equated a UK NGO as ‘Thatcher’s Children’ more interested in column inches than in the issue they claimed to be campaigning on.

Clearly the challenges ahead are huge. This is because so many of the commitments made by governments over the last forty years since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Human Environment have not been delivered.

I do not know how many of you are aware of the excellent work by Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Center on the nine planetary boundaries – we are already exceeding three of them
  • Climate change
  • Biodiversity loss
  • The amount of nitrogen removed from the atmosphere.
The work on the planetary boundaries published in 2009 by Rockstrom and 29 other leading academics define, as it were, the boundaries of the “planetary playing field” for humanity if major human induced environmental change on a global scale is to be avoided.

Kate Raworth of Oxfam developed this approach saying that if there are plenary boundaries then there needs to also be a social foundation based on a human rights framework. This became known as the Oxfam doughnut which has as the outer part of the doughnut the planetary boundaries and the inner as the social foundation and the space between them becomes the safe and just operating space for humanity.

We know that since the 1992 Earth Summit the world has seen tremendous changes. Within a generation nearly one and half billion people have been added to the planet. Globalisation has brought benefits but these have not be shared equally. Inequalities have increased within countries and between countries. The last decade has seen the hottest temperatures since human beings began recording temperatures. Maybe we already have lost the chance to stabilize at a 2-degree rise. We seem to be on the road to a 4 degree rise according to the World Bank publication in November last year. The impact this will have on human rights will be grave.

I want to take you back to in time only two years in 2011 sustainable development seemed dead as a global concept.  We had seen President Mbeki of South Africa in 2006 declare that the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation was a forgotten piece of paper. The Commission on Sustainable Development in 2007 for the first time failed to agree any policy when dealing with energy and climate change. Brazil President Lula at the UN General Assembly showed considerable leadership when he called for a new Summit in 2012. Even he would not have predicated the failure of the Copenhagen UNFCCC meeting in 2009 and followed by the CSD again in 2011 this time over Sustainable Consumption and Production. Rio+20 it should be remembered preparatory meetings were held during the worst part of the possibly the worst financial crisis we have had.

Looking to the future we know that during the next 17 years upto 2030 we already know we will face:
·      Population growth expecting to reach 8 billion people by 2024;
·      The rising economic prosperity in some of the larger emerging economies such as China and India;
·      By 2030 over 60% of people will live in cities

These global impacts combined with climate change will mean:
  •       Global demand for energy will rise by 30-40% by 2030
  • Agriculture production will need to increase by 30-50% by 2030 to meet global demand for food;
  • Demand for water will exceed global availability by 40% by 2030.

The impacts this will have on human rights will be enormous.  So there is an urgent need for leadership not just from governments but it will also need to come from stakeholders, local governments, NGOs, youth, women and industry as well as the UN if we are going to face these challenges together or slip into competition for resources.

It should be remembered that Rio+20 was the first UN Conference that allowed the submissions by stakeholders to be considered for the zero draft. I have to say that the submissions by governments, stakeholders alike did not offer great vision. In the 677 submissions by governments and stakeholders less than 20 mentioned a rights based approach while only 175 of the submissions mentioned human rights of some kind.

So what did Rio+20 achieve and where were human rights reflected
  1. Strengthening the environment and sustainable institutions in the UN – UNEP and setting up a new High Level Political Forum which may deal with monitoring the new goals agree in 2015;
  2. It changed the whole conversation on what kind of goals would replace the MDGs in 2015. It put sustainable development at the center of that whole debate. Now 70 countries are developing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  3. It set up an expert committee on sustainable development finance which will probably come forward with the financial architecture to deliver the new goals in 2015;
  4.  Rio+20 also underlined a serious commitment to Human Rights unlike Johannesburg 10 years earlier. Rio+20:

a.     Reaffirmed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, the rile of law, gender equality, women’s empowerment and the overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development

  1.      It called for the effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Programme of action of the Conference on Population and Development and the outcomes from their review conferences, including the commitments leading to sexual and reproductive health and the promotion and protection of all human rights in this context
  2.      Recognize that planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that “Mother Earth” is a common expression in a number of countries and regions, and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of promotion of sustainable development.
  3.       Rio+20 also had a number of critical meetings held around the Summit one of which was the one organized by Bakary Kante of UNEP  on supreme judges helping them to understand how to address sustainable development in the area of the law -which may turn out to be one of the most important meetings.  

The post 2015 development framework should be built upon existing human rights legal norms, standards and commitments it must also address the human rights of future generations.

Let us build a sustainable development global framework that is based on real action and not thin air or empty promises that time has gone.

So how can this happen?

The post 2015 development process has been again an open one for stakeholders with national consultations in over 100 countries and an EU consultation as well as 11 thematic consultations. So the space has been  here for organizations to get involved. These have feed into a High Level Panel set up by the UN Secretary General

On the 31st May this panel chaired by the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia and Prime Minister of the UK will publish its report. There will be two to three weeks for organizations to input to Amina Mohamed who ahs the responsibility for helping to draft the Secretary Generals response to the Panel report which will then go to the UN General Assembly in September.

Meanwhile the Sustainable Development Goals Open Working Group has been getting down to business. It is made up of 70 governments and has announced its schedule of meetings and themes. Each of these meetings needs to have an input from the human rights community. That should be through you national government and to the relevant stakeholder group that is representing you at the UN.

The meetings schedule is:

May 22-24th 2013: Third Session SDG OWG – 3 days - Food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation

June 17-19th 2013: Fourth Session SDG OWG   – 3 days – (a) Integrating water into sustainable development (1.5 days); (b) Sanitation (0.5 days); (c) Health and population (1 day)

November 25-27th 2013: Fifth Session  SDG OWG  – 3 days – (a) Sustained and inclusive economic growth, macroeconomic issues (including trade and debt) infrastructure development (2 days) (b) Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education (1 day)

December 9-13th 2013: Sixth Session SDG OWG – 5 days -  (a) Means of Implementation; global partnerships for achieving sustainable development goals (3 days) – (b) Needs of countries in special situations, LDCs, LLDCs, SIDA and Africa (2 days)

January 6-10th 2014:  Seventh session SDG OWG– 5 days – (a) Sustainable cities and human settlements, sustainable transport (1.5 days); (b) Energy (1.5 days),  - (c) sustainable consumption and production, climate change, and disaster risk reduction (2 days)

February 3-7th 2014:  Eight session SDG OWG – 5 days – (a) Oceans, forests, biodiversity (2 days), (b) promoting equality, including social equality and women’s empowerment ( 2 days),  - (c) Conflict, peace and security (1 day)

And then in March:
March 3-7th 2014:Nexus Conference, Food, Water, Energy and Climate Change at UNC North Carolina. This will input the interlinkages between these major sectors.

This time around human rights principles and operational standards must sit at the foundation of the post 2015 framework and any new climate agreement.

2015 has emerged as the most important year for sustainable development since 1992. It also is the most important year for the UN failure in 2015 is not an option, and its not an option not to engage as stakeholders as this year will set out the path to a sustainable road map or make it likely that we will not try succeed and the thought of that is very very frightening. 

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