53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, Interactive Dialogue on the Adverse Impact of Climate Change on the Full Realisation of the Right to Food

53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, Interactive Dialogue on the Adverse Impact of Climate Change on the Full Realisation of the Right to Food
Photo Source: GHRD Staff


V. Sivasankar, Shruti Lal, Reva Kulkarni

Team UN Geneva Researchers,

Global Human Rights Defence.

During the interactive dialogue on the impact of climate change and the full realisation of the right to food, Ms Peggy Hicks, the Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures ad Right to Development Division of the OHCHR opened the floor of the Council by outlining the Secretary-General’s report on the right to food, and to a clean and sustainable environment. The report presented a transition to sustainable food systems with agroecological approaches that urges transforming trade regimes, ending harmful agricultural subsidies, and promoting locally grown food produce. It proposed fiscal policies that do away with carbon-intensive commodities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the vitality of making businesses accountable to the environment. While a human-rights based sustainable approach would address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, this would entail protection of small-scale farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and local communities to sustainable use of land and resources. At the end of her introductory remarks, she posited for “people to be at the heart of a new, circular economy”, in which local produce is available, and where consumers have the information, they need to prioritise sustainable food. 

Numerous statements were made by nation states that ranged from agro-ecological farming to domestic emissions trading systems to tackle the issue presented. The United Arab Emirates, which will be hosting the next COP28 reiterated their objective of inclusive and constructive dialogue that can implement concrete actions. On marine biodiversity, Costa Rica set on the table the need to make sure ocean resilience is a prime concern.  Portugal and Malta called for adopting a rights-based approach to climate action. However, Russia contended the link between human rights and the environment, arguing that the efforts to shift environmental challenges to other bodies was an arbitrary expansion of the mandate which the Council is not specialised to talk about. Collaboration with first nation peoples and indigenous communities was emphasised by Australia, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Belgium along with measures to ensure their access to justice is not hindered. In the financial sphere, Cuba propounded the embargo as the greatest violation of human rights, along with Botswana and Chile who asserted that accessible funding be made to local levels as they do not have social systems that are responsive.  

The Council was dominated by the voices of small island developing nations as well, that put forth their concerns like Samoa, Mauritius, the Maldives, Marshall Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Nauru. UNICEF, advocating for children, spoke of the nutritional concerns at the centre of climate action that would impact children negatively, while UNEP recommended adapting climate action to existing programs. 

Among the diverse agents of civil society that made their statements, the Centre for International Environment Law asserted the need to protect environmental rights defenders while informing the Council of the impacts of geoengineering which can lead to the disruption of ecosystem functioning. The Edmund Rice International Limited made a powerful statement talking about the necessity to invest in rural infrastructure, organisation of local producers, giving land ownership to women and strengthening family farmers to become leaders of climate change. The plight of indigenous communities and the risk of expulsion from their own lands was highlighted by World Vision International and EarthJustice. Accentuating that “food should never be reduced as a commodity to be traded”, Associazione Comunita also brought up the meaningful participation of farmers as well. Concerns regarding prioritisation of low-income developing countries and small island nation states were raised by Organisation Internationale pour les Pays les Moins Avances and Franciscans International. 

Wrapping up, Ms Hicks maintained that trade regimes are in need of a transformation that is accompanied by placing rights holders at the centre of all action. As the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is indispensable, she affirmed that there needs to be a shift in investment in traditional mechanisms, responsibility placed on businesses, along with the safety of climate defenders. On carbon markets, while they are innovative, the onus was placed on them to be more actionable towards the climate since they pose human rights risks. Advocating for sharing resources and technology in pursuance of non-discriminatory policies, Ms Hicks attested to “the requirement of a global response underpinned by global solidarity”.