Environment: UN declares right to a healthy environment

by Peter Sainsbury

Image: Flickr / Dennis Jarvis Global right to a healthy, sustainable environment declared but governments conspire to hide the truth about climate change, Tassie sanctions the killing of native wildlife and Brazil encourages dangerous mining deep in the Amazon.

UN declares right to healthy, sustainable environment
Following the lead of the United Nations Human Rights Council a year ago, the General Assembly of the UN has recognised that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. A right that is not simply an airy-fairy concept but one that involves the right to participate in relevant decision-making processes, to have access to environmental information and to have the ability to seek an effective remedy for transgressions. UN recognition of the right to a healthy environment is not legally binding on member states but the resolution is clear that nations are expected to honour their international agreements and take action to implement them. The resolution is also expected to be a catalyst to empower citizens to hold governments to account.
António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, welcomed the decision and said that ‘This landmark development demonstrates that Member States can come together in our collective fight against the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples’.
Tasmania’s killing fields
Since 2019, 2.8 million wallabies, kangaroos and possums, 14,000 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, 5,000 Black Swans, 3,000 Wood Ducks, 1,800 Cape Barren Geese and many more species of native wildlife have been killed by farmers under Property Protection Permits issued by the Tasmanian government. All because of a widespread but mistaken belief that they are seriously damaging crops. In 2022!! Unfathomable. No wonder Australian biodiversity is deteriorating when this sort of crazy behaviour goes on.
IPCC Summaries for Policymakers – fact or creative writing?
Most people with even a passing interest in climate change are aware of the significance of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its Working Groups. During the last year, three Working Group reports have been released on the evolving science of climate change, on mitigation of climate change and on the impacts of and vulnerability to climate change. A Synthesis Report is due for release early in 2023.
Hundreds of scientists from around the world review thousands of published research papers to produce each Working Group report, which constitutes a snapshot of the current state of knowledge. The full report often runs to a couple of thousand pages. Clearly not many people will read 2,000 pages and so the same scientists produce a shorter, say 50 page, Summary for Policymakers (SPM). It’s not easy condensing 2,000 pages into 50 but compromise and consensus deliver what the experts believe is an honest statement of what the science is currently telling us.
But the scientists’ version of the SPM is only a draft. It has to be reviewed and edited not just line by line but word by word by all the world’s governments. A consensus has to be reached before the ‘final’ Summary for Policymakers, the one the public sees, is formally released. In this inter-governmental editing process the science is left behind and political and corporate muscle and horse-trading take over.
Somewhat unusually, the scientists’ draft of the mitigation Working Group’s latest SPM fell off the back of a lorry and it’s been possible to compare their draft with the final ‘government approved’ SPM. The omissions, obfuscations and watering-downs are numerous and staggering. For instance:

The scientific consensus that no new coal and gas plants should be built and that existing ones should be closed down within a decade was eliminated and replaced with a statement that coal-fired plants could be increased with carbon capture and storage;
Evidence that the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population have ten times the per capita emissions of the poorest 10%, and that over 40% of developing countries’ emissions were due to export production for developed countries was removed;
Gone from the final SPM were the statements that incremental change is not sufficient to tackle climate change and that ambitious transformation with a systemic approach that overcomes vested interests is needed;
The politicians and diplomats gave the flick to the need for ‘rapid emissions reductions and a fundamental transformation of all sectors and regions in order to reach net zero CO2 emissions’ and hence keep warming below 1.5oC;
A section on how transition pathways that prioritise equity can promote transformational changes, and one noting a lack of integration of environmental justice in climate mitigation activities … both gone.

Australia played a prominent part in all this dilution, arguing strongly against statements that fossil fuel energy should be rapidly reduced and coal-fired plants closed and against any mention in the report of fossil fuel lobbyists. This was under the previous government, of course, but it’s already clear that the new Labor government is unlikely to take any aggressive action either domestically or internationally against the fossil fuel industry. (Hold the presses, John – Plibersek reported to be standing up to Palmer.)
Illegal airstrips and mining in the Amazon
We all know that the Amazon rainforest is being cleared both legally and illegally with terrible consequences for the local Indigenous people, the global climate and biodiversity. This New York Times article provides explicit details of how this is happening through the seizure of government airstrips and the construction of illegal airstrips deep in the forest by illegal gold and tin mining operations – all explicitly supported or silently ignored by President Bolsonaro and his government. The airstrips are used by light aircraft to ferry materials and staff to and from the ‘wildcat’ mines which are otherwise impossible to access.

 

Apart from the loss of traditional lands, Indigenous people also suffer from malnourishment because of destroyed crops and increased malaria from the proliferation of mosquitoes in the open mining pits. Even worse, the mercury used to separate gold dust from riverbed mud is poisoning the communities’ fresh water and fish supplies, and causing mercury poisoning, particularly in children.
Inconvenient energy facts
According to ‘If you don’t know these 10 facts, you’re energy blind’:

We don’t replace old energy sources with new ones. We just add the new ones to the system to cope with increasing demand.
On top of food, the average Australian needs 200,000 calories of energy per day to run their life.
Global energy consumption must fall to a fifth of its current level in a sustainable world.
Wind, solar and batteries have bigger land and materials footprints than fossil fuels.
The economy functions with energy at its core, where the true cost of the original coal, oil and gas and the pollution they cause are not reflected in the price consumers pay for the fuel we use.
We’re almost out of cheap oil. To produce one barrel of oil today takes a lot more energy than it did 100 years ago.
Energy efficiency increases total emissions.
When you spend money on anything, it increases the unsustainable use of energy and materials.

For more discomforting information, check out the website.
Global warming? Nah, it’s all fake news.

In the USA, heat waves are arriving more frequently, more intensely and earlier in the year. Nights are warming more than days, which hinders the body’s usual night-time cooling pattern. Fake news, all fake news.
And just to prove that NASA is part of the conspiracy, have a look at the 5-yearly global heat maps since 1930. The first and latest shown below. More fake news.