Thanks to One Young World, we will report live on the Global Humanitarian Forum discussion currently taking place at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, with Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. The four biggest defenders of human rights and global justice are joining a discussion today that promises to create a list of priorities for the Copenhagen Convention at the end of 2009 when the Kyoto protocol will have to be renewed. BBC’s Nishai Pillar insisted on the importance of hosting such a global and important event in South Africa as the South needs to make its voice heard in the debate surrounding what could create the largest inequalities challenge in the third millenium.


Environmental concerns have often been marginalized next to allegedly more important issues such as human rights, third world development and security issues; it’s only recently that it appeared all those issues were tightly linked and co-dependant. The presence of Mary Robinson, a former EU commissionner for Human Rights, appeals to that concept that human rights can not be accessed if the current climate situation maintains a seemingly incommensurable difficulty to access fundamental resources, such as water. If “justice” is encompassing equality, terms must include the possibility for basic health conditions and the protection against the inevitable consequences of a rapidly changing climate. The North, pursuing academic and scientific research for several decades on the subject, must work with the South in order to shrink the shameful divide between the two hemispheres.

It is hard not to be impressed by Kofi Annan’s insistance on the presence and involvement of the youth in the discussion – it is indeed about decisions we will be required to make soon. It’s such a recent topic, though, that has been brought to mainstream attention in the last couple of years. The lack of education available on the subject is disturbing. Here’s to  hoping that access to this conference is going to shed a lot of light and democratize the global discussion on climate justice. Mary Robinson, former Irish President and EU Commissionner for Human Rights, is making the link between respect of human rights and climate change, something that had yet to be made. Those in the South depending on regular weather patterns, as Tutu mentioned, are now in deep poverty. Said patterns no longer exist. It was absolutely necessary to have both agendas set on parallel lines are working in the same direction. She’s not afraid of denouncing the “inequacy of the situation” – Africa being responsible for only 1% of greenhouse gas emissions, but suffering from the biggest consequences – and to call for principles of climate justice.  The new Convention must draw a concept of self-discipline for european and north american governments. It’s a pleasure to listen to her be so authoritative on the question of responsability.

Responsibility was the keyword of the panel discussion, often repeated as participants slammed the complete leniency shown towards polluting companies. “Money collected by polluters should be used towards a global fund for sustainability and information”, said Kofi Annan. So far being a polluting company is pretty financially rewarding. It’s time to put this money to good use and try to reverse the process by redistributing this wealth towards something constructive and efficient. Research is inefficient at this point, or disregarded as those suffering the most from the greenhouse gas effects are poor countries that do not contribute to the global wealth enough for the North to take notice. Stressing the importance of Kyoto follow-up is important. There wasn’t enough commitment, especially from the US, to implement the rules created by Kyoto. I think Copenhagen needs to be more strict in the way it plans on pressuring countries to respect those limitations. As Jo reported on her live Twitter, “We need political leadership with ambition that goes beyond the next election.”, Annan said. We are indeed lacking in a strong political voice that would speak in the name of climate justice with all the issues it creates and implies. There is a lot of dissonance and disseminated voices failing to reach a global consensus on something that has to be worked out at an international and supranational level. There is no place for egoes and national interest when talking about the dangers some countries are facing because of these inequalities and the growing decrease of water. It’s extremely worrying, yet we keep on postponing the discussion because it makes the political consensus uncomfortable just staring at the amount of damage done.

The first question – “how can we make the Top 6 respect climate change when it fails at respecting basic human rights law” – is the question that has been at the back of a lot of minds for a very long time. I had most certainly hoped that by linking climate justice to fundamental human rights, a sort of collective awareness would have risen, but the events of the last five years – wars in the Middle East and in Afghanistan – have proved that human rights are never at the top of governments’ priorities, and that a global suffering from climate change resulting in more injustice and inequality wasn’t going to rise some political leaders from their slumbers.  As Archbishop Tutu said, “we are faced with an interconnected crisis. The recession is not an excuse for inaction on other crises.” Let’s not underestimate the horror and the downfall of this economic crisis, but I agree that this doesn’t mean everyone has to leave the room to tend to their own businesses. This crisis is global, consequences are global, which means answers have to be global. A recession doesn’t mean going backwards in time either. The crisis posed by climate change and the failure to uphold human rights law are just as real as the recession; fighting wars is not going to help anyone’s budget either. A recession is probably a good time to re-assess priorities and question legitimacies. If anything, it’s an excellent time to discuss what we are going to do and how budgets will be spent.