Celebrities descend on Paris climate conference to support human rights

Robert Redford with indigenous leaders at the conference this week.
Robert Redford with indigenous leaders at the conference this week. All pictures by Nardine Groch. 

By NARDINE GROCH,
at the Paris climate conference

A plethora of celebrities have appeared in Paris during the second week of the UN climate change negotiations to give weight to the importance of key human rights issues being included in the final agreement.

At a special event at the COP21 conference site, the day before the 67th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, two prominent female celebrities spoke passionately about the need to support the rights of the “voiceless”.

Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and former actor Bianca Jagger outlined her campaign to push world leaders to meet the 1.5 degrees target and to respect the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous peoples are not part of the negotiations here at COP21 and they are the best keepers of the environment because their way of life is respecting Mother Nature. Mother Nature has rights and they are fundamental rights for our survival,” she said.

Singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo expressed her frustration over the lack of voice given to poor people in developing countries.

“The wealth of this planet is up for everyone to profit from, not just a few, but it has to be done in respect to those who live on the land. We need to allow indigenous peoples the right to decide how they will preserve the Earth. Where is the justice for Earth? Where is justice for the poor people?” she said.

Frustrations have been high among indigenous leaders and human rights advocates throughout the negotiations as key human rights recognition within the operative section of the text, such as specific rights of indigenous peoples, women, people with disabilities, children, small farmers, migrants and the most marginalised have been removed. 

Bianca Jagger speaking in paris this week.
Bianca Jagger speaking in paris this week.

The chief of development and economic and social issues at the High Commission for Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, said so far the draft texts had not delivered in their obligations towards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to all countries and can’t be avoided by sidestepping obligations in subsequent international agreements,” he said.

“The climate crisis is a human rights crisis and it needs to start being addressed as such and we think it needs to start right here in Paris in these negotiating rooms, “ he said.

Former US vice-president and climate change hero Al Gore had spoken out for greater  inclusion of women’s rights as part of climate change action in an address to delegates at the conference last week.

“Women’s rights and gender equality is right at the heart of solutions to the climate crisis,” he said.

Actor and founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization Sean Penn defended the needs of the poor in vulnerable countries such as Haiti.

“If there is something in how we can move forward with forests, to create economic opportunity and protect those vital human rights, it’s in no longer being afraid to make commitments to do,” he said.

Singer Angelique Kidjo in Paris this week.
Singer Angelique Kidjo in Paris this week.

Actor and environmentalist Robert Redford led a special UNESCO-organised indigenous storytelling and climate change event on Sunday, which gave a voice to key indigenous leaders, activists and creative artists.

“Indigenous people themselves have great stories to tell us. They were the closest to the land … it is time to listen to what these cultures have to tell us. Who is going to know more about what the threat is than those people who are threatened?” he said.

Redford also spoke about the importance of young people in finding solutions to climate change.

“In order to protect the future, we have to let those people that will be part of the future have the reins. We should give the reins to the young people. They are very concerned about the environment. They have the intelligence and the will and the passion to do something about the environment, so let them act. Let them manage what is left on this Earth,” he said.

Alec Baldwin also made an appearance at the La Bourget conference site on Wednesday to talk to key officials and media about his work with United National Development Program  and the need for more support for indigenous peoples across world.

However, perhaps the most prominent figure was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who gave a powerful speech just hours before the release of the second draft text, at the Momentum for Change awards. The speech was followed by a performance by celebrity Jamaican dancehall rapper Sean Paul.

“Our thoughts here in Paris and beyond must reflect the thoughts and aspirations of the poor, the marginalised and those most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate,” he said.

Ban Ki-moon yesterday said this had been the hardest set of negotiations he had  experienced, but that it was also still the most important for humanity.

“I have been attending many difficult multilateral negotiations, but by any standard, this negotiation is most complicated,” he said.

And although celebrities have lent their weight to the key issue of human rights, experts such as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, are still not confident that the language will be brought back to be included in the final text.

“Asserting human rights is not very easy to put into the text because many states are already not compiling with their international human rights obligations, “ she said.

The final Paris agreement is being finalised today.