The High-Level Thematic Debate of the UNGA ‘Moment 4 Nature’ aimed to contribute towards rapidly accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting biodiversity on land and sea, restoring life to degraded land and soils, tackling pollution, and, achieving circular economies.
Convened by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly, he invited member states to debate on how to achieve the level of cohesion needed among the global environmental work streams to “keep the 1.5°C target alive.”
In the opening remarks of H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, two reflections stood out: first, that “this planet is all that we have. Our existence is predicated on our ability to live and thrive here.” He said this in response to the awe expressed by us all as we enjoyed the pictures of faraway galaxies sent back by James Webb Telescope.
The second reflection resonated with what we at One Earth see again and again: “From Angola to Guatemala, I have seen communities in action. Communities protecting and living in harmony with the beautiful and bountiful ecosystems that they live in. This is what we must aspire to.”
The Right to Defend Territories
In order for communities to keep living in harmony or to recover the initial conditions of good living, they must be granted the right to protect their territories. Land defenders need the full guarantee that they are able to exercise such right, which further ensures the integrity of bioregions. Helena Gualinga, an Indigenous young speaker who offered remarks in the second portion of Segment 1, reminded us that “when it comes to Indigenous people in South America, it is one of the most dangerous places to be in as an Indigenous land defender, and there is no guarantee for us to continue doing this work.”
Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner on Human Rights made three important remarks in that regard. First, she reminded us of the need for a human rights-based approach to solutions for environmental crises; next, she spoke of the need to recognize Indigenous peoples and local communities as well as the institutions that protect their rights, territories, and interests, as it “can be transformational..., improves conservation outcomes and promotes human wellbeing.” She further noted that the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform equally acknowledged that recognizing and respecting the worldviews, values and traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples is crucial for better outcomes for people and nature. Thirdly, Ms. Bachelet urged parties to adopt the Resolution on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment --which was passed nine days later, on July 28, 2022.
The Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment
Thirdly, Ms. Bachelet urged parties to adopt the Resolution on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment. This initiative was started by the Maldives a decade ago, inspired by the call to action from UN Member States back in 1972 at the UN Conference on the Environment in Stockholm. The initiative gradually saw the backing of allied states and NGOs as well as the arduous work of David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. More recently, it was endorsed by 1,100 civil society organizations as well as UN Secretary General António Guterres and Michelle Bachelet, until last October 8, 2021, it was voted by the Human Rights Council, unanimously.
Looking forward to the upcoming COP15 chaired by China and hosted in Montreal in December 2022, Ms. Bachelet reminded us that “States should seize the opportunity of negotiating the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to commit to action that protects nature and human rights.”
Noting that the latest report of the IPCC recognizes that a human rights-based approach to environmental crises is crucial, Ms. Bachelet also stressed that it “can close the gap between environmental commitments and the often-unrealized action needed to meet them. It also emphasizes the underpinning of legal obligations to act, rather than simply of discretionary policy,” adding that this “helps to overcome entrenched interests that place profit before people and planet” while strengthening still inadequate accountability frameworks.
Accountability in Proposed Climate Actions
Xiye Bastida, another young speaker with Indigenous roots, referred to three priority areas where accountability is crucial—all highlighted in Stockholm +50. The first is the urgent need for a fossil fuel phase-out, where countries like Mexico draft energy reforms that “lead out” of the dependency on petroleum. The second is to make ecocide a crime, noting that for most societies “nature means culture”. The third is “loss and damage: the global south requires the hundred billion dollars a year for loss and damage.”