Human Rights Day 2021 – WE MUST TAKE CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION FOR REDUCED INEQUALITIES NOW
10 December 2021
As the Lao PDR and the world continue to fight COVID-19 and its immediate impacts on health and socio-economic development, we would remiss if not addressing also the global challenge that threatens all life on earth– the triple planetary crisis – for which there are no vaccines. With global warming, depleting ecosystems and environmental degradation we are facing the largest challenge in modern time, of which the burden will be borne by the most vulnerable populations and future generations.
As we today, 10th December mark the 2021 Human Rights Day, with the global theme to Raise Every Voice for Equality, we need to highlight some of the impacts of the planetary crisis and call for a broadbased dialogue on how to address existing and emerging threats towards reducing inequalities.
Climate change and environmental degradation have a severe impact on realising people’s enjoyment of rights, sustainable development as well as the rights of all life on Earth. Reducing and addressing this impact is not only a matter of survival but also a human rights obligation in its own right. Therefore, a people-centred rights-based approach must be integrated into all of our efforts to address the various needs, challenges and opportunities in overcoming inequalities in this emerging crisis – leaving no one behind, be they current or of future generations.
The impact of the planetary crisis on Lao PDR is apparent, partly due to the country’s vulnerability to worsening extreme weather and climate shocks, but also in terms of the strain to ensure sufficient capacities and resources to prevent, respond and recover from their consequences as a developing country. This will further challenge the equal enjoyment of rights among segments of the population in areas such as food security and agricultural livelihoods, and in ensuring accessibility of quality services for women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities. Looking further ahead, we are also likely to see increased migration flows caused by unsustainable ecosystems and environmental degradation.
If we are truly to pursue a people-centred development agenda and equal opportunities for all at both global and national levels, we must join forces and raise our voices. To this end, multilateral and cross-sectoral cooperation is a key, including actively and meaningfully engaging the most vulnerable groups. And this means all of us collectively, in all our capacities, as government, as international organisations, the private sector and civil society but also as people, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters expressing in our own voices how we wish to live.
Lao PDR recently joined the international community at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow in negotiating the terms for realising the goals under the Paris Agreement. The challenges expressed by Lao PDR during the Summit on implementing the provisions under the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda are well noted. Indeed, the great impact of the crisis, along with the limited capacities and resources for tackling these issues, places a heavy burden on Lao PDR. In parallel, there is an inherent trade-off between protecting forests while relying on natural resources for economic growth and financing development. But all things come at a cost.
Deforestation in Laos and the Southeast Asia region, home to about 15 percent of the world’s tropical forests and an unequalled bio-diversity with a unique flora and fauna, will greatly impact our ability to withstand the reverberating effects of climate change. Therefore, it is imperative that we come together to identify and set in motion structures that address these trade-offs and enables us to make progress across all areas of the 2030 Agenda without sacrificing our planet’s well-being. In this regard, a few opportunities should be highlighted.
As the Lao PDR prepares the Smooth Transition Strategy to lay the foundation for the development agenda beyond its graduation into a middle-income country, environmental considerations have to be integrated in order to reap the benefits of a quality graduation and to invest in a sustainable and green development for all.
To enable a green progressive development agenda along with the LDC graduation, we have to also consider climate change and the environment in the recovery from COVID-19 that has put decades of development progress at risk while further straining development funding. Combined with the many possibilities that the LDC graduation brings, we now have the opportunity to review the national development agenda and to come up with structures to build forward, better and greener for a healthy planet – ensuring that no one is left behind.
Parallel to the domestic planning for a green and environmentally sustainable development agenda that promotes the equal enjoyment of rights, we have to also safeguard mechanisms for foreign investments that stimulate green growth while protecting forests and ecosystems. In this regard, the European Union’s legislative initiatives present a good possible example, including the recent proposal for a regulation to prevent that products sold in the EU contribute to deforestation, and the legislative initiative on mandatory due diligence for protection of rights and the environment across sectors. This is also well served by one of the 4 outcome areas agreed as a strategic priority area in the UN – Lao PDR sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for the next 5 years to collectively work on environmental priorities, climate change, and to help build resilience across development efforts.
The United Nations and the European Union, along with other development partners, stand ready to support Lao PDR in reaching these goals to enhance the protection of the environment, natural resource management, green growth, and disaster risk reduction, as outlined in the 9th NSEDP.
The message is simple: WE MUST TAKE CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION FOR REDUCED INEQUALITIES NOW and encourage dialogue around how we move forward and accelerate system-wide action across sectors to realise the equal enjoyment of rights for all in this emerging crisis – both for the people of today and the future generations.
The op-ed is co-authored by H.E. Ms. Ina Marčiulionytė, the European Union Ambassador to the Lao PDR and Ms. Sara Sekkenes, UN Resident Coordinator to Lao PDR.
Ms. Sara Sekkenes
Before joining the UN, Sara worked with the non-governmental organization Norwegian Peoples Aid as Country Director in Mozambique, managing a 350-staff humanitarian mine action programme (2004-2005), as Policy Adviser at their headquarters in Norway (2001-2004), as Programme Adviser in the Balkans (2001), and as Programme Manager in Angola (1998-2000).
A national of Norway, Sara holds a Master’s degree in Human and Physical Geography and additional university degrees in Development Studies and Political Geography.