Inter-American Court of Human Rights to meet in Barbados to confront climate crisis

The relationship between human rights and the climate crisis will be explored this week, when the Inter-American Court on Human Rights will hear testimony from experts from around the globe and Caribbean nationals in Barbados.

On Monday, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights opened its 166th Regular Session at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, where it will be taking up the issue of the climate emergency, and the response in the framework of international human rights law.

More than 60 delegations from around the globe, including experts on human rights and climate change and from academia and non-governmental organizations, are participating in the session, hosted by the government of Barbados. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hold a public hearing on a request for an advisory opinion on climate change and human rights.

The request for an advisory opinion for clarification on the scope of governments’ obligations in responding to climate change was requested by Colombia and Chile. The countries noted that both are experiencing the daily challenge of dealing with a proliferation of droughts, floods, landslides and fires.

“These events reveal the need for an urgent response based on the principles of equity, justice, cooperation and sustainability, with a human rights-based approach,” the request said. “We are facing a climate emergency with a devastating potential for life on earth.”

Still, climate effects are not being felt uniformly. leading to the effort to gather diverse opinions on governments’ obligations to their populations. A similar information-gathering effort is being carried out by the International Tribunal of the Sea and the International Court of Justice, said Pablo Saavedra Alessandri, registrar of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“I think it is one of the most important decisions that... we are going to produce in the next couple of months because climate change is affecting human rights around the world,” Saavedra said.

The hearings this week are an important moment for the Caribbean, which are in danger due to the warming of the earth, he added.

A recent report, published in cooperation with the United Nations Development Program and the Climate Impact Lab, predicted that a number of coastal communities around the world including Kingston, Jamaica, could permanently lose 5% or more land to sea level rise by the end of the century due to global warming.

“The impacts on coastal regions, which are often sites for major social and economic hubs, could potentially trigger reversals in human development worldwide,” the study said.

The report released by Human Climate Horizons, a collaboration between the United Nations Development Program and the Climate Impact Lab, also noted that sea level rise over the last 20 years has led to an increase in coastal flooding.

By 2100 climate change is expected to cause the submergence of a significant share of land in low-lying regions of the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and other islands around the world.

Last week, while visiting Chile, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed sought to rally nations on the need for climate action while speaking at Seventh Meeting of the Sustainable Development Forum of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.

“Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” Mohammed said.

Saavedra said it’s important for people to understand that climate change isn’t just a phenomenon of adverse weather events, like hurricanes or floods.

“The rising of the sea level in the Caribbean... is affecting the economy and it’s affecting human rights because it’s affecting the right to life of different people,” he said.

Welcoming the group to Barbados on Monday, Kerrie D. Symmonds, minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, said when his nation has spoken about the climate crisis and the need for increased climate financing to help nations respond, “we have done so almost exclusively via diplomatic and moral exchanges in the name of climate justice.”

“These hearings will now take us a step further by interrogating, evaluating and establishing the legal obligations which are attendant upon the climate emergency and its consequences for the multiple millions of people whose whose lives and livelihoods are being threatened and, in some cases, decimated,” Symmonds added.