Mr. President, dear colleagues,
The environment and human rights are more intertwined than we generally think. When we protect nature, tackle climate change, and halt the loss of biodiversity, we are equally protecting and promoting human rights around the world. It is important to identify this link in every sphere of society: policymakers, scientists and researchers should not treat the environment and human rights only as separate compartments.
The consequences of climate change, such as extreme weather events, sea level rise or desertification, threaten fundamental human rights such as the right to health or the right to an adequate standard of living. Individuals, who have to leave their homes due to droughts or floods, are exposed to many human rights violations.
The consequences of biodiversity loss or climate change will further increase inequality, since the impact of these phenomena will hit first the poorest people and those who are already among the most vulnerable groups of people, such as persons with disabilities, indigenous people and women and girls.
Some geographical areas, such as small island states, and the people who live in them, are particularly in danger. The Arctic is also a geographically challenging area, where the effects of climate change are dramatically visible. In my home country Finland, especially in the north, the indigenous Sami people have observed changes in seasons, temperatures, precipitation, vegetation, fauna, and reindeer behavior, all these threaten their right to maintain and develop their own culture and traditional livelihoods.
Thus, around the world the rights of indigenous peoples are already under a threat. I cannot emphasize this enough: protecting nature and making sure that the planet does not warm too much is paramount in the protection of human rights around the world.
To effectively address the magnitude of climate change and biodiversity loss we need to tackle the temporal dimension of politics: policymaking is very often short-sighted. Short-sighted policies are not optimal in the fight against long term phenomena. We need to take better account of future generations in decision-making at every level, we need more possibilities for everybody’s involvement.
Current representative democracies have evolved over time. Nevertheless, we need to ask: how well are groups like young people and different minorities being heard in our political system? Young people and the future generations are the ones who are still affected by the decisions made by us, many years after we are gone.
One potential way to increase long-term policymaking is to introduce deliberative civil dialogue forums. Studies confirm that political debate between individuals from different perspectives broadens people’s political understanding. Therefore, citizens’ debates can increase their access to information, participation in decision-making and, at the best, also strengthen the legitimacy of political decisions.
Thank you for the rapporteurs in highlighting the necessity for everyone to have access to justice when the rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment are offended. Individuals, and also groups, must have ways to demand accountability from governments. Therefore, it would be worth considering whether there should also be a possibility for collective complaints included in the European Convention on Human Rights to strengthen environmental protection in the future.