Public Panel Discussion: “Climate Justice and Adaptation Strategies: Linking Global and Local Initiatives”

By Mark Kernan, 7th July 2014

 

As a precursor to the third in a series of workshops on Climate Justice, Human Rights, Migration and Adaptation Strategies, hosted by the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in conjunction with the EU COST Action Programme IS1101, a public discussion took place on 9th June 2014 at UCC highlighting key areas in the climate justice debate, with speakers from diverse viewpoints: academia, policy-level, and from an activist standpoint.

 

Chair for the discussion, Professor Siobhán Mullally, introduced the evening’s key talking points: how different types of migration, short-term and seasonal for example, can be an adaptation strategy in response to climate change, and the need for examination of the institutional responses to adaptive migration strategies at the global, regional, and national levels.

 

First to speak was Dr Cosmin Corendea, from the United Nations University (UNU) in Bonn and current chair of the University’s social vulnerability project, who discussed a recent UN collaborative project – Where the Rain Falls – which ran from 2011 to 2013. The project was an empirical study with a participatory ‘bottoms-up approach’ which focused on climate change, food security and human mobility in eight countries in the Global South, where seasonal rainfall, now often erratic due to climate change, acts as a trigger for non-traditional migration. The global findings of the project, based on country specific case studies, highlighted in particular that in 30% of cases forced migration was the main violation of human rights, particularly problematic in the case of rural to urban migration. The study’s key finding however found that the most important issue facing climate-induced migrants in all countries was food security. As a specific example, in Tanzania climate change is now impacting on both the wet and dry seasons, where the monsoon season often falls later than expected thus causing confusion to traditional migratory patterns. As a result, communities who migrate to other regions at non-traditional times, due to crop failure for instance, now face severe human rights problems, often in conflict over resources with host communities. Dr Corendea however was keen to point out that ‘migratory reaction adaptations’ differ considerably in diverse regions of the world. Responses in Vietnam to erratic rainfalls for instance are different for a host of reasons from Peru, for geographic or cultural reasons, and local and national action plans to deal with such a diversity of migratory responses must take this into account.

 

Second to speak on adaptation strategies, this time from a Global North policy level perspective was Diego Quiroz-Onate, Policy Officer with the Scottish Human Rights Commission. In his talk on climate justice in Scotland, three themes where outlined. First, he argued that human rights are not adequately discussed in climate change reports. Instead, climate change is communicated overwhelmingly in terms of fiscal policy, economics and depleting resources and as a result the social element is ignored or at best downplayed. Climate change displacement impacts on housing rights, for example when flooding acts as a push factor resulting in homelessness, and sometimes destitution, a direct consequence. Therefore the integration of a strong human rights framework at the policy and legislative level is vital for both adaptation and mitigation. Second, and following on from the first theme, the human rights-based approach gives added value in the design, implementation and evaluation of law, policies and practices. Human rights impact assessments for example, he argued, add moral value, within a strong moral framework, in that they identify both rights-holders with specific claims, and duty-bearers with specific legal obligations. His final point dealt with the concept of climate justice in Scotland, specifically the 2009 Climate Change Act and the 2012 Scottish Parliament motion on climate justice. The 2009 Act creates the statutory framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enables the transitioning to a low carbon economy. Meanwhile, the 2012 motion was passed unanimously, and according to Quiroz-Onate, this legislative framework linking human rights to development in Scotland is a highly progressive model, with a climate justice approach as the formal policy of the Scottish Parliament.

 

Finally, speaking from an activist point of view, Oisín Coghlan from Friends of the Earth (Ireland) spoke on climate change legislation in Ireland – specifically, the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Bill 2014. Unfortunately, and in direct contradiction to the Scottish legislature’s success in passing laws, Ireland is considerably off-track on climate change targets due to legislative inactivity. In a challenging analysis, Coghlan argued that the ‘hold up’, ongoing since 2007, is largely due to ‘complex climate change politics’. Before the 2011 election for instance all the main political parties had explicitly committed to climate change legislation, yet since the new Daíl has convened the current coalition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, have not seen it as a priority. All this, he frankly admitted, despite the inception of the coalition on advocating for a climate change law began in 2007, with development NGO’s and faith groups, has been a somewhat sobering, if enlightening experience.

 

A law is needed, Coghlan argued, to provide a ‘policy architecture’ robust enough to drive action on climate change. Otherwise, it invariably falls off the political agenda. Part of the reason the legislation itself has taken so long, he maintained, is due to civil service resistance; where there is a preference for policy flexibility over firm timelines and targets, and where increased external oversight and accountability hold no great appeal. It takes considerable political will to overcome that inertia and political leadership has been lacking, especially given the influence of vested interests such as IBEC and the IFA, concerned about the short-term costs of climate action on their members.

 

Coghlan also argued that climate legislation, while not negating the legitimate interests of the business and farming lobbies, is intended to increase transparency and raise the level of democratic debate on climate policy. The public role of the expert advisory body should help bring the policy decisions out from behind closed doors. Elements in the civil service regard this as restricting Ireland’s room for manoeuvre.

 

This combination of civil service caution and interest-group concern is what stymied the last Government’s Climate Bill which included targets for 2030 and 2050, beyond the 2020 targets Ireland had already agreed to in EU negotiations. Following discussion of mitigation and adaptation, Coghlan finished the session with a somewhat apt and succinct phrase which had been conveyed to him at a recent environmental convention, in relation to climate change and its consequences: manage the unavoidable, but avoid the unmanageable.

 

In summing up the three presentations and placing them within tripartite institutional and policy structures, Dr Dug Cubie of the CCJHR and organiser of the evening’s discussion, argued that to protect the most vulnerable in society we must adapt to a changing climate as well as tackling the root causes via mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, climate change adaptation strategies must be understood in terms of linking the global UNFCCC Cancun Adaptation Framework which prioritises approaches that are country-driven, gender-sensitive, transparent, participatory and based on best available science; with the regional, for example the EU adaptation strategies and climate-proofing action at EU and member State level; while at the local level, it is necessary for the Irish National Adaptation Framework and the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill to articulate a coherent strategic government policy for both adaptation and mitigation measures.