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#COP27: HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES URGE PARTIES TO INCREASE RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND LAND DEFENDERS.

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Environmental and land defenders play a critical role in mitigating the effects of climate change, yet they’re often subjected to violence, harassment, intimidation, and criminalization for speaking out against land dispossession and climate abuses. Today, the climate justice and human rights organizations EarthRights International, Global Witness, Natural Justice, Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA), CIVICUS, and the International Land Coalition released a set of recommendations for policymakers attending the upcoming COP27 climate conference in Egypt, calling on them to take meaningful steps to protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis and to enable diverse, safe, and effective participation of civil society observers during COPs.

Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warn that the world has an ever-narrowing window to avoid climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, Indigenous and frontline communities bear the brunt of the world’s climate change impacts and are increasingly threatened for speaking out against environmental abuses. Most of these threats relate to land conflicts involving climate-damaging industries – from deforestation by agribusinesses to mining, yet corporate accountability for such harms is lacking. Civil society and Indigenous peoples have also been raising concerns for years about access, participation, and freedom of assembly at UNFCCC meetings. COP27 in Egypt raises additional challenges because of the context of closed civic space in Egypt.

“States have been unable to offer environmental and land defenders the adequate level of protection and guarantees they need to safely exercise their role. Either it is apathy or incapacity, or the intervention of large power schemes, corruption, or organized crime, but States do not advance as needed in the defense of defenders’ rights. A higher recognition and incorporation by UNFCCC and COP27 of the role of defenders in facing the climate crisis is crucial to move States towards stronger protection schemes,” said Silvana Baldovino, SPDA’s Biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples Program Director.

According to Global Witness, on average, one land and environmental defender has been killed every two days since 2012. Civil society experts have also reported an uptick in efforts to criminalize defenders, enact legislation to prevent freedom of assembly, and deter activists with punitive lawsuits such as strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs). In September, EarthRights identified 134 cases in the past ten years in the U.S. in which the fossil fuel industry has used SLAPPs and related tactics against its critics.

“All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists, and other land and environmental defenders are working to address climate change and biodiversity loss,” said Shruti Suresh, Strategy Lead – Land and Environmental Defenders Campaign for Global Witness. “Yet they are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalization, and harassment, perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritizing profit over human and environmental rights. We urgently need to promote corporate and government accountability in defending the defenders and enable their participation in climate decision-making.”

These trends contradict recent international multilateral environmental agreements such as the Escazu Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean, which came into force in 2021, and the Aarhus Convention in Europe, which recognize the role of environmental defenders in building a just transition and the need to protect them from further harm.

“The Escazu Agreement was the first treaty in the world to include specific obligations for the recognition and protection of environmental defenders,” said Natalia Gomez, EarthRights Climate Change Policy Advisor. “However, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change climate negotiations, there is very little recognition of the central role that environmental and human rights defenders play in the global response to the climate crisis. The upcoming COP27 is a historic opportunity for parties to enhance climate action by advancing the recognition and protection of environmental defenders. We cannot achieve climate justice without protecting those at the frontlines of the crisis.”

While reprisals against activists occur worldwide, experts who helped author the analysis agree that parts of Africa are particularly dangerous for environmental and human rights defenders.

“Environmental defenders in Africa have increasingly become the subject of reprisals linked to the increasing appetite for fossil fuels, unsustainable development projects, and conservation initiatives across the region,” said Eva Maria Okoth, Senior Program Officer for Natural Justice. According to Natural Justice’s 2021 report on the African Environmental Defenders Emergency Fund, the majority of environmental defenders who were supported by the Fund received multiple threats, including death threats, threats of being arrested, and/or threats of being attacked. The report further established that eviction is the second most prominent threat faced by applicants. Other common risks documented around the world include physical attacks, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP suits), judicial harassment, and emotional and sexual violence.”

Environmental and Land defenders in Africa face a myriad of challenges in their efforts to demand climate action, characterized by violence, repression, harassment, and criminalization,” added Audace Kubwimana, Africa Regional Coordinator of the International Land Coalition. “As the climate crisis deteriorates, so does the violence against those protecting our land and environment. Silencing dissenting movements endangers the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable populations and dampens the significant role played by defenders in the context of the climate crisis.”

“Environmental, land, and Indigenous rights defenders in Africa are among the communities that are most vulnerable to violence and harassment at the hands of their States. Such impunity continues unabated in many countries, including Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa. States must ensure that environmental, land, and Indigenous defenders suffer no reprisals for legitimate activities to defend the rights of their communities,” said Dr. Paul Mulindwa, Civicus’ Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for Africa.

“The reprisals faced by land and environmental defenders in the global south, coupled with the increasing threats of climate-induced loss and damage, is an egregious violation of their fundamental human rights and untimely their right to self-determination. It is paramount that defenders, Indigenous peoples, and frontline communities are protected, and their rights expanded and safeguarded from the preparators of reprisals and climate criminals who persistently put profit before people and the environment,” concluded Katherine Robinson, Head of Campaigns, Natural Justice.

Recommendations for Parties at COP27: 

  • Parties must recognize the link between the climate crisis and the growing violence and repression against land and environmental defenders and take meaningful steps to protect the role of defenders in promoting ambition and enhancing climate action.
  • Ensure a strong and effective Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) action plan by including the following activities:
    • Hold an ACE Dialogue on Environmental Human rights defenders, including Indigenous peoples and frontline communities, to identify the obstacles that defenders face when trying to exercise their rights to access information, public participation, and education.
    • Identify gaps preventing environmental defenders to exercise access to information and participation in climate action through consultation with Indigenous peoples and frontline communities, relevant UN offices, relevant civil society groups, and other key stakeholders.
    • Provide targeted recommendations for parties, inter-government bodies, and other relevant key stakeholders to take action to increase protection for defenders and enable them to exercise their rights to participate and contribute to decision-making related to climate and environmental matters.
  • Ensure that human rights experts, Indigenous peoples, environmental and human rights defenders, and representatives of frontline communities can participate in the technical dialogue and roundtables of the Global Stocktake and facilitate and lead some of the discussions.
  • Address the situation of environmental and land defenders during the Global Stocktake Technical Dialogue and roundtables. The outcomes of the Global Stocktake should offer specific guidance on how parties should increase their ambition to fulfill their human rights obligations. This should include guidelines to protect the rights of land and environmental defenders and guarantee their access to information, public participation, and consultation.
  • Governments wishing to host COPs should enable the exercise of rights of freedom of association and peaceful assembly and guarantee safe participation by civil society and Indigenous representatives during COPs.

Read more here.

Source: Earth Rights

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Statement- Uganda: Seven Environmental activists brutally arrested, charged and released on police bail for protesting against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project

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On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala, Uganda and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. This was reported by the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (StopEACOP) campaign on 29 May 2024.

The seven human rights defenders were peacefully protesting against the intended financing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) by the Chinese government. According to the environmental human rights defenders, EACOP has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis. The EACOP is a project led by Total, spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. The seven environmental activists were sitting outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala in an attempt to present a letter of protest to the Chinese Ambassador expressing their complaints and demanding that his government refrain from funding an unfavourable project for them. Due to their arrest occuring before they had any chance of interacting with embassy representatives, their letter was not delivered. The peaceful protesters were violently rounded up by the police, who subsequently packed them in a vehicle and brought them to the Jinja Road police. The seven activists were released on police bail and were due to report back to the Jinja Road police station. On 18 May 2024, following several banks and insurance companies’ withdrawal from EACOP, Civil Society Organizations supporting energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and urged the Chinese President to rescind his interest in funding the project.

Local organizations have been denouncing that, in order to stifle complaints, silence protesters, and maintain pressure on those who defend climate, environment, and land rights, Ugandan authorities have turned to attacking and criminalising environmentalists, climate activists, and defenders of land rights. Uganda has recorded the most number of cases of violations against these human rights defenders, with 18 incidents documented in Africa, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center’s 2023 in their report titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023. The majority of these attacks seem to center around the EACOP and the environmental human rights defenders campaigning against the project, which the State regards as a significant infrastructure initiative.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the safety and security of the seven environmental human rights defenders and strongly condemns the recent instances of intimidation, criminalization and police harassment they have been subjected to, as it believes are an act of reprisal for their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of environmental and land rights in Uganda.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Uganda to take the necessary measures to guarantee the security and protection of environmental human rights defenders during peaceful protests. The organisation also demands that the brutal arrest of these seven human rights defenders be condemned. Front Line Defenders calls Ugandan authorities to guarantee that all environmental and land human rights defenders, including human rights organisations working on environmental rights, are able to carry out their legitimate activities and operate freely without fear of police harassment.

Source: Frontline Defenders

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TotalEnergies African legacy: 100 years of environmental destruction.

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TotalEnergies, the French petro giant company with a legacy of destruction on the continent, this year celebrates 100 years. To be clear, that is 100 years of profit, environmental destruction and damage to people’s lives.

The company’s damage is widespread, extensive and well-documented.

In 1956, TotalEnergies entered Africa, exploiting natural resources as it went along. In chasing down oil and gas, it has wreaked havoc on communities, land, and the environment.

A 2022 study by the Climate Accountability Institute found the total emissions attributed to the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline totals 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making TotalEnergies a key contributor to Africa’s carbon footprint.

As Charity Migwi, a senior campaigner at Oil Change International, a research, communication, and advocacy organisation, notes, the company has its hands on various projects on the continent.

The project noted above will have about 460km of pipeline in the freshwater basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region. On top of this, there are plans to extract oil from the fields in Uganda as well as the company’s prominent role in the Mozambique LNG Project, which is a major cause of carbon emissions

Closer to home, TotalEnergies has been given the go-ahead to explore for oil and gas off the south-west coast of South Africa, which sparked protests. As the company held its annual general meeting in Paris, France, protests by affected communities, civil society and activists in both countries took place.

Environmental justice group The Green Connection’s community mobilisation officer, Warren Blouw, said in a press release: “TotalEnergies and other oil and gas companies must consider the livelihoods of small-scale fishers, whose economic wellbeing is jeopardised by offshore oil and gas exploration. We must unite to protect Africa and its resources from those who only seek profit, at the cost of regular South Africans.”

Zinhle Mthiyane, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said: “We are protesting to protect the environment and prevent ocean pollution. Drilling for oil and gas in South African waters could degrade the environment, threatening livelihoods and cultural practices.”

One of those affected by TotalEnergies and its hunt for fossil fuels is Sifiso Ntsunguzi, a small-scale fisher from Port St Johns, on the Eastern Cape coast. Ntsunguzi made the trip to France to protest.

“We are in Paris to support the court case against TotalEnergies’ oil and gas projects. As a small-scale fisher and member of a coastal community, I do not support the exploration of oil and gas in the ocean. We use the ocean for cultural practices and as a means to sustain our livelihood. We are against exploration of gas and oil, as it may risk degradation of the environment and marine ecosystems, our livelihood and our health. I come from a fishing community and have become a fisher myself,” he said.

In another press release, environmental justice group Bloom wrote that TotalEnergies has been well aware of its climate harms as far back as the 1970s, yet the company still goes ahead with its oil and gas initiatives.

Initially, its strategy was to deny climate change, wrote Bloom. Now that it can no longer do so, it has changed tact and resorts to greenwashing, described by the United Nations as follows: “By misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is, greenwashing promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action.”

Total Energies portrays itself as a serious player in the renewable energy space and constantly punts its renewable efforts while going full steam ahead with its fossil fuel projects.

For example, it said of its project in the Northern Cape: “TotalEnergies and its partners are launching construction of a major hybrid renewables project in South Africa, comprising a 216 megawatt solar plant and a 500 MWh battery storage system to manage the intermittency of solar production.”

Bloom explained that chasing renewables is profitable but nowhere near as profitable as oil and gas, and it in no way negates the harmful search for and use of fossil fuels. For this reason Bloom and two other climate justice groups took TotalEnergies to court.

This case also hopes to halt the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. As The Guardian reports: “A criminal case has been filed against the CEO and directors of the French oil company TotalEnergies, alleging its fossil fuel exploitation has contributed to the deaths of victims of climate-fuelled extreme weather disasters. The case was filed in Paris by eight people harmed by extreme weather, and three NGOs.”

Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist at the University Of Cape Town, said: “The fossil fuel industry will continue to undermine science, they will continue to expand their businesses,

they will continue to cause suffering to the people as long as they know that the law can’t hold them accountable.”

Whether the case will yield anything remains to be seen, but the important thing is people are standing up and fighting the harmful practices of these fossil fuel companies. International bodies like the UN climate change conferences yield very little results. It is up to us, the people on the ground, to unite for the good of our planet.

Source: mg.co.za

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Incredible WIN! European Union withdraws from Energy Charter Treaty

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The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is an international agreement originally created with a focus on growing fossil fuel energy cooperation after the Cold War. Today, the Treaty is a major obstacle to effective climate action because it protects fossil fuel investments. By including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), the Energy Charter Treaty allows fossil fuel corporations to sue States that act to protect our climate when that action could impact a company’s profits.

Today, we celebrate because the European Council overwhelmingly adopted the EU’s proposal to exit the controversial Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), an outdated international investment agreement that protects and promotes fossil fuel investments.

CIEL and other organizations across Europe have worked tirelessly to educate European decision-makers about the dangers of the Energy Charter Treaty. Together, we proved how the treaty prevents effective climate action and is fundamentally incompatible with EU law.

This pivotal vote follows up an EU Commission’s proposal for the EU and European Atomic Energy Community to exit the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission found the ECT incompatible with the EU’s laws, investment policy and law, and energy and climate goals. Its proposal broke months of deadlock by offering EU countries the option to remain in the treaty while allowing other countries to exit. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution in April 2024 calling on the EU to withdraw from the ECT.

Today’s vote proves that people power can win critical victories!

Join us in celebrating this victory for the people, the environment, and the climate!

Demonstrators wear masks with the EU leaders under a sword that reads Energy Charter Treaty.

Why does this matter?

Fossil fuel investors have used the Energy Charter Treaty to sue States when they take climate action, claiming a right to compensation for alleged loss of investments. If they are serious about climate action, States must disentangle themselves from investor protections that allow fossil fuel companies to sue them in private courts when States act in the public interest to phase out fossil fuels. States could be squeezed from both sides: sued by communities for their climate inaction with ever greater frequency, and sued by investors when they do act to phase out the fossil fuel drivers of the climate crisis and accelerate the energy transition.

CIEL has worked for a long time to dismantle ISDS and ensure that the perspectives of communities inform ongoing arbitration.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Exit the Energy Charter Treaty'

Policymakers in Europe, and beyond, now have a duty to end their dependency on fossil fuels, exit the ISDS system that allows industry to sue States for enacting public interest policies, and accelerate the clean energy transition.

This win in Europe is a milestone in the fight against investor state dispute settlements. Now, we are leveraging this momentum for other States and clearing the way for effective climate action around the world.

Today we celebrate this victory with you. Tomorrow we will continue working to uproot the fossil economy driving the climate crisis, and the trade and investment deals that stand in the way of a renewable energy future.

Source: ciel.org

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