Human rights and environment issues are closely linked

Angela Seay

The excellent special feature on Human Rights Philanthropy (Alliance, September 2019) began a nuanced discussion on the role of philanthropy in the frameworks for economic, social and cultural rights, in addition to political and civil rights. To that I would add the Human Rights and Climate Change framework. My question is, did the issue go far enough in emphasising the relationship between environment and human rights?

There are those, even in the environmental funding community, who do not yet accept the connection and I hope that this changes. In addition, there is a failure to link up issues like the right to education for girls with mitigating climate change, even though this has been identified as a key practical step to reduce emissions in the long term.

The climate emergency is the defining issue for our planet. The intersection of human rights and climate change has been evident for some time, but we have been too slow to act. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has worked tirelessly to warn us all. Individuals from Pope Francis to Greta Thunberg decry the lack of political and corporate will. Organisations like Extinction Rebellion are also ramping up the pressure to act.

One human rights issue is emphatically clear. The murder rate for environmental activists is now higher than for other activists. According to Front Line Defenders, more than three-quarters of the 321 activists killed in 2018 were environmental, land and Indigenous people’s rights activists.

The foundation that I work with is small, if devoted. We endeavour to provide thoughtful grantmaking for environmental sustainability and peace-building (they too are linked) and urge everyone to make the climate emergency a high priority in your work, whatever your area of focus. Everything is connected.

There is still more to achieve in improving understanding of how all the human rights frameworks mesh with one another and how we can achieve profound, lasting, and in the case of climate, much more immediate progress. I encourage Alliance to keep this discussion alive in coming issues, even as it tackles other important areas for philanthropy.

Angela Seay
Chair, Trustees
Polden Puckham Charitable Foundation

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