Countries band together to appoint UN climate expert

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc in the Bahamas, in 2019, leaving many without a home. Small islands such as this one are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events being worsened by climate change. (Credit: Keystone/AP Photo/Gonzalo Gaudenzi)

The Human Rights Council will vote on appointing a UN expert on climate change in a few weeks.

A group of countries will put forward the appointment of a UN special rapporteur on climate change to the Human Rights Council next month, Marshall Islands Ambassador Doreen de Brum revealed on Wednesday.

The island country, along with the European Union, Fiji, Bahamas, Panama, Paraguay and Sudan, will table a new resolution to be voted at the end of the session, running until 8 October in Geneva.

The expert would be tasked with scrutinising governments’ actions to address the climate crisis and to protect populations from the human rights impacts of a warming planet.

There have been growing calls from rights groups for such an appointment for over a decade, but the suggestion has only gathered momentum among member states in the past couple of years.

The move is rare as a group of states in charge of penning resolutions on climate change already exists at the UN rights body. However, the trio – comprising Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Philippines – has failed to make much progress in proposing the expert mandate.

Rights groups and countries pushed the group to put the proposal forward at the last council’s meeting in June, but it only went as far as encouraging discussions to continue in an attempt to appease resistance from larger countries such as India, Pakistan and Russia, according to diplomatic sources.

“Given the current lack of ambition and the lack of political will on the issue of climate change, the creation of this new position of a special rapporteur is a crucial step to fill this void,” said Ambassador de Brum announcing the initiative at an event in Geneva.

Certain states are reluctant to have another expert out of fear they would be ‘named and shamed’ for environmental shortcomings,  such as failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or protect communities from climate impacts. However, poorer countries view this as a means to put pressure on their wealthier counterparts to financially support them to counter the adverse impacts of climate change.

Ten years ago, developed countries pledged $100bn a year to help developing nations tackle climate challenges, but very few are hitting the mark.

“These are the countries responsible – and culpable – for the climate-induced tragedies happening elsewhere on the planet. And perhaps the countries who keep promising money to poor, vulnerable countries for adaptation – and yet that money never seems to come – also share some of the blame,” said Mohammed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives and ambassador for ambition for the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of 48 countries particularly at risk from rising temperatures that has openly backed the initiative.

Before presenting the draft resolution to the council, informal talks will be held, where other states will get to comment and negotiate language with the text’s proponents. The proposal will need a two-third majority to get through the 47-member council.

“I would be very disappointed to see anyone abstain, or vote against [the resolution],” said Nasheed.

“I think the Council would lose a lot of respect and credibility if it decides to ignore climate change, and refuses to create the position of a rapporteur.”

If the resolution is adopted, an expert would be nominated at when the council convenes again next year, following an election process.