The environmental lawyers of Environmental Defenders Office, Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice have made a joint submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council for Australia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The submission urges the Australian Government to take serious and immediate action on climate change in order to protect Australians’ human rights. This includes the rights to life, health, food, water, housing and culture, all of which are threatened by climate change. The rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia are particularly at risk.

“Indigenous peoples in Australia are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of their deep connection to the environment. Severe drought hinders water-based cultural practices throughout inland Australia, higher temperatures and extreme weather events negatively impact biodiversity – including culturally significant species – and rising sea levels threaten the communities and culture of the Torres Strait Islands and other coastal Indigenous groups.”

David Morris, EDO CEO.

The joint submission recommends that the Australian Government:

  1. Strengthens greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures to meet 2030 targets, as well as increasing this target;
  2. Sets enforceable deadlines to phase out domestic reliance on fossil fuels;
  3. Dedicates maximum financial and material resources to shift to renewable energy;
  4. Discontinues financial support, subsidies, investments and incentives that encourage fossil fuel or other activities that are contrary to emissions reduction efforts;
  5. Protects the rights and freedoms of children and the public to express their views on climate change and undertake peaceful protest;
  6. Considers the rights and interests of those outside Australia who are impacted by Australia’s contributions to climate change, particularly Australia’s neighbours in the Pacific; and
  7. Protects the rights of non-government organisations to advocate for action on climate change.

These recommendations are necessary and urgent steps to ensuring our human rights are protected from the impacts of climate change. “Claims by the Australian Government that it will meet and beat its targets under the Paris Agreement do not stand up to scientific scrutiny,” said David Morris. “The Government’s targets will not help us achieve our key commitment under the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. What matters in the end is not the accounting, but limiting temperature rise and catastrophic impacts on the environment and human rights.”

The UPR is a process whereby the compliance of each country with their human rights obligations is reviewed and scrutinised roughly every five years by the international community, including other countries, NGOs and other organisations, and individuals. It is an essential process for accountability within the Human Rights Council and reviews every UN member nation. Australia is scheduled for review in early 2021.

Under the UPR process, the country under review submits a National Report to the UNHRC in which that country details the work it has done to meet its human rights obligations since its last UPR. The Human Rights Council also receives reports from UN human rights committees, national and independent human rights experts and groups, and other bodies such as NGOs, all of which may raise questions and make recommendations about the country’s compliance with its human rights obligations. These questions are then posed to the country under review and the recommendations submitted in a report to the country.

The country under review may respond to the report by either accepting or noting the recommendations. The country is also expected to take responsibility for implementing the recommendations and must report on this process at their next UPR cycle.

“We are asking the United Nations Human Rights Council to urge Australia to uphold its human rights obligations under international law. All Australians’ human rights should be protected, and this requires Australia to take strong climate action now and encourage other countries to do the same.”

David Morris, EDO CEO said.

The joint submission has been made directly to the Human Rights Council.

Submissions were also invited directly by the Australian Government in respect of its draft report. Submissions to the Government were due by Wednesday 29 July 2020. EDO and EJA also made a joint submission directly to the Government. Most significantly, the Government did not address climate change impacts on human rights or even mention the term “climate change” in its draft report.

The aim of this initiative is to hold the Australian Government to account in respect of human rights violations caused by its climate inaction. We look forward to the Australian Government’s response and hope to see implementation of our recommendations.

For more information about the UPR, go here.