MOKSHANAND (SUNIL) DOWARKASING
It was an honour and privilege for me to meet with you more than 2 years ago to flag and discuss the fact that Climate Change is now a “Human rights” issue under the resolution 7/23 of the Human Rights Council. Now there are numerous court cases around the world in different jurisdictions on this issue and the most famous one is the « Urgenda case » in the Netherlands which I included a brief overview below:
« URGENDA WINS THE CASE FOR BETTER DUTCH CLIMATE POLICIES
The Hague, 24 June 2015 – Urgenda and nine hundred co-plaintiffs were victorious in the climate case today, forcing the Dutch government to adopt more stringent climate policies. The district court of The Hague has granted the plaintiffs’ claims, and the government is now required to take more effective climate action to reduce the Netherlands’ considerable share in global emissions. This is the first time that a judge has legally required a State to take precautions against climate change. This verdict will provide support to all the other climate cases around the world. »
A lot of these cases filed around the world have been the joint people initiatives and Human Rights Commissions based on treaties signed, customary environmental law, and international human rights law.
On December 10, 2018, the village of Cottage experienced a climate tragedy of epic proportions. Flash flood caused water flows to rise sharply, inundating people’s homes with muddy water. This caused hundreds of households to lose most of their belongings. Many of the inhabitants of this tragedy are now without basic furniture as sleeping beds or cooking utensils. Scientists warn that extreme weather will continue for the foreseeable future and here in Mauritius even after the sad event of Port-Louis where 11 people died, it seems that the Government is still blindfolded despite the fact that we are rated as one of the most vulnerable countries. Cottage village is rich with history and culture, but poor when it comes to standard of living. Most of the inhabitants are relatively poor. Livelihoods of people have been ruined with the recent flash floods.
The People are forced to take unprecedented action and seek compensation in order to preserve hope for building the future again. They made a claim to the actual government, but government is not the only culprit though the main one. Climate change is a consequence of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the burning of coal and other fossil fuel as well as deforestation which decreases the photosynthesis cycle of carbon emission. All the economic activities contributing to more carbon emission and deforestation local or global are responsible for climate change and the flash floods of Cottage. Despite being a party to various climate agreements, such as the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement, all our coal based IPPs (Independent Power Producers) are either continuously fuelling climate change or destroying our ecosystems and forest cover. They are no doubt significant contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions and have a fair share of the responsibility for the harm caused in Cottage, and even more when it comes to the assistance needed to prevent and withstand further climate damage. The country’s increasing contribution to global CO2 emissions will continue to fuel climate impacts, including sea level rise and harsher weather conditions.
The issue I want to raise today is i) These big local corporations which have no environmental consciousness are responsible for the devastating consequences of climate change and the flash floods in Cottage; and ii) These companies should be required to compensate for the losses suffered by this climate vulnerable village.
I humbly assert based on their ongoing carbon emissions since decades that these companies are equally responsible for the flash floods and extreme weather conditions and must compensate the villagers of cottage in accordance with equity.
Your honourable commission is the appropriate forum for this claim to be heard based on the facts that climate change is a HR issue.
Therefore, I will speedily solicit a meeting with the HRC in the presence of the IPPs for sole purpose of handling this claim disputes for the small and vulnerable village fighting for restoring the livelihood of its inhabitants. The HRC is a quilt of protection for Mauritius and requires the government to operate in preventing further harm, and most importantly, to compensate for climate damage already suffered by the villages of Cottage. I will base my arguments on the following:
First, Mauritius has breached its obligations in respect to climate change by not reducing emissions as required under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and other international agreements.
Protection of the natural environment has been affirmed as an obligation in multiple international conventions. Today, we will focus on the UNFCCC, the Paris agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mauritius is party to the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We are also longstanding members of the United Nations and have submitted emission reduction targets to the UNFCCC. Global efforts to address climate change under the UNFCCC aim to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” for the benefit of future generations, considering the special circumstances of those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, based on the precautionary approach, and fostering sustainable development.
Coal power plants like our IPPs are major historic polluters of GHGs, and as such are responsible together with a latent government for climate change. Despite having knowledge of the risk posed by climate change and the financial resources, the capacity to reduce carbon pollution and the political leverage, both have failed to do so and now are in breach of the Paris agreement.
The Objective in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement now commits Parties to limit global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels “to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels”. “The temperature limits are operationalized in Article 4.1 through a long-term goal of peaking global GHG emissions as soon as possible, rapidly reducing them thereafter, and continuing to reduce them until we reach net zero emissions in the second half of this century.
Contrary to the commitments in the Paris Agreement, our IPPs GHG emissions are forecasted to continue increasing as energy needs increase. Based on this trajectory, our country and its vulnerable spots will continue to be at risk of suffering climate damage fuelled by our IPPS excessive GHG emissions among others.
The HRC has the power to look to other relevant international treaties and agreements in deciding whether our IPPS are acting in accordance with international law. Of the contraventions breached particular concern must be drawn to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. While not binding customary international law, the SDGs are supported and work in concert with binding international law such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The SDGs act as guidelines and recommendations for countries to advance global sustainable development and therefore bring an end to poverty globally. We draw attention to them here as they reveal where environmental law and environmental harm intersect with fundamental rights. The situation in Cottage has exacerbated Poverty. Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, whereby « (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.» The flash floods have increased the villagers’ health risks. The inundation of Cottage foreseeably results not only in the ongoing destruction of the population’s homes, but also in disturbing the livelihood and the education of the children.
GHG emissions are a “physical output or by-product” of activities taking place in the IPPS. GHG pollution is contributing to overall greenhouse gas effects which have impacts well beyond the borders of Mauritius.
The polluters such as the IPPS and others owe a duty of care towards Cottage village. The Mauritian government has breached this duty by failing to take early action, in accordance with best-available science, to reduce the IPPs’ emissions. Under international law, States must exercise adequate due diligence and “use all means at [their] disposal” to ensure domestic activities do not cause excessive or significant environmental damage.
Even if they act now it will be too late for the villagers of Cottage. In accordance with the Polluter Pays principle, another customary basis for liability for environmental damage, the IPPs must be compelled to compensate for damages because they failed to act and to curb climate change. Hundreds of people suffered.
I do ask this honourable Commission to seek inspiration from recent climate cases, as the Urgenda decision by the Hague District Court in the Netherlands and many others – cases that demonstrated an openness to extend human rights reasoning to encompass the environment. Based on these grounds, I do request the Human Rights Commission to assert jurisdiction and order the IPPS to compensate and assist Cottage village and its citizens based on an assessment of losses.
Looking forward to hear from you,