U.S. should lead on including human rights in climate talks

paris-climate-2015Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, is part of the labor delegation attending the Paris Climate Conference, advocating for policies that aggressively address climate change while providing for a “Just Transition” that invests in the communities and working families that will be hardest hit by the transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy.

Special to The Stand

PARIS (Dec. 8, 2015) — Quick update: It has been a full-court press to get “just transition” and human rights language into the operational portion of the Paris climate document. I participated in a Blue Green press conference yesterday where we made this pitch and also lobbied Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) Chief of Staff, Ana Unruh-Cohen. Tomorrow or the next day I will be part of a delegation presenting the following letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Re: Human rights in the Paris Agreement

Dear Secretary Kerry:

On behalf of the following peoples and organizations working to protect the rights of those most vulnerable to climate change, we appreciate your commitment to an “ambitious, durable, and inclusive agreement that will finally put us on the path towards a global clean-energy future.”

As we enter the final stages of negotiation, it is important to recognize that climate change is not only an environmental issue, but also one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time. It is an issue of justice and inequality for the millions who are already experiencing the effects of climate change, the vast majority of whom bear little to no responsibility for its causes. It is also an issue for future generations who will suffer increasingly severe loss and damage.

The international community’s failure to take urgent action to mitigate climate change is further threatening these rights, especially for indigenous peoples, the poor, women and children, and other vulnerable communities. The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan and the exacerbation of the refugee crisis in Syria are just two examples of how extreme weather and other climate change-related effects can result in severe, and often irreversible, harm to millions of people around the world including loss of life, forced displacement, and loss of livelihoods. At the upcoming climate talks in Paris, the United States has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to lead the international community by increasing its ambition and providing scaled-up resources to reduce the very worst climate impacts.

We support the United States’ position, articulated earlier this year during the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council, calling on States to respect their human rights obligations when responding to climate change, as well as the State Department’s leadership in advancing gender equality in climate actions. We fully agree: actions taken to address climate change must not come at the expense of peoples and communities or their rights.

As the world prepares for COP21, we urge you to translate your commitment to protecting the rights of those most vulnerable into concrete action. We call upon the United States to seek a just and equitable outcome in Paris that:

1. Explicitly recognizes that human rights obligations apply when taking actions to address the impacts of climate change as well as actions to mitigate those impacts, thus ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality, intergenerational equity, just transition, food security, and ecosystem integrity;

2. Catalyzes urgent and ambitious mitigation action that effectively limits the average global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius as a means to minimize future loss and damage; and

3. Ensures that the United States and other countries contribute their fair share of finance for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage in a manner that prioritizes the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.

We share your goal for Paris: to achieve an ambitious, durable and inclusive climate agreement. But it must also be an agreement that will deliver human rights protections for peoples and communities in the United States and around the world. We look forward to working with you to ensure that outcome is achieved.


ActionAid USA
Alaska Institute for Justice
Alaska Wilderness League
Amnesty International USA
Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation
Bronx Climate Justice North
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law
Center for International Environmental Law
Center for Rural Empowerment and the Environment
Centers of Investigation for Poverty and Inequality and for Sustainability, Moravian College
Clean Air Council
Clean Energy Action
Climate Law & Policy Project
Climate Wise Women
Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Connecticut Fund for the Environment
Consortium of Universities for Global Health
Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, North Region
Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
Friends of the Earth US
Global Health Justice Partnership
Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment
Grail Climate Action Circle
Gray Panthers
Green America
Greenpeace USA
Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights
Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America
Human Rights Advocates
Indigenous Environmental Network
Indigenous World Association
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Policy Program
Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense
International Accountability Project
International Indian Treaty Council
International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples
Kingdom Living Temple
Loretto Community
National Congress of American Indians
Native American Rights Fund
New Jersey Sand Hill Band of Indians
Passionists International
Rachel Carson Council
Refugees International
Show Up! America
Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
Southwest Native Cultures
UNANIMA International
United Confederation of Taino People
Vanishing Earth
Women’s Environment & Development Organization
Young Feminists & Allies, National Organization for Women


Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

ALSO see the 2015 Washington State Labor Council resolution on ​”Climate and Jobs” approved by delegates representing unions from across the state.

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