Amnesty International Letter to Secretary Kerry on Human Rights Priorities for Addressing the Global Climate Crisis

March 17, 2021

On March 17, 2021, Amnesty International USA sent a letter to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry outlining human rights priorities for addressing the global climate crisis.

Click here to read the letter

Dear Secretary Kerry:

Amnesty International welcomes President Biden’s decision to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, and his efforts to host a Leaders’ Climate Summit, convene a Major Economies Forum, and that wielding U.S. influence to enhance global climate ambition is an official priority of his administration, including at the G7 Leaders’ Summit on June 11-13, at the G20 Leaders’ Summit on October 30-31, and ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (“COP26”) on November 1-12.

While we commend the positive actions the Biden administration has taken to address the climate crisis, the U.S. can and should do more. In addition to implementing the domestic climate recommendations in our Feb. 11 letter to the President, the administration should also implement the following policy recommendations to mitigate the effects the climate crisis.  Please see the appendix for Amnesty’s country-specific recommendations on the climate crisis.

I. At the G7 Leaders’ Summit on June 11-13, the Biden administration should call for and support an “Action Plan to Accelerate the Race to Zero” which includes commitments to:

  1. End all fossil fuel expansion and exploration at home and abroad as soon as possible.
  2. Achieve a phase-out the most polluting fossil fuels and forms of production, such as coal, peat, fracking, and tar sands by 2030 at the latest.
  3. Launch a global initiative to incrementally reduce fossil fuel production by at least 6% annually between 2020 and 2030.
  4. Achieve a global phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies including tax concessions and funds through multilateral development banks.
  5. Substantially increase contributions to climate finance to achieve the $100 billion target agreed as part of the Paris agreement and to support the adoption at COP26 of a higher target from 2025.
  6. Ensure that green technologies (including the massive expansion in rechargeable batteries) are developed in full compliance with human rights standards at all stages of production, use and end-of-life.
  7. Adopt a “just transition” plan towards human rights-consistent renewable energy and ensure that climate policies address the concerns of most affected groups and communities.
  8. Guarantee that COVID-19 response measures facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a human rights-consistent, zero-carbon economy, and the creation of new jobs that deliver sustainable employment for all workers without discrimination.

II. At the G20 Leaders’ Summit on October 30-31, the Biden administration should call on members to support the global efforts to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis by adopting clear commitments to:

  1. Phase out the use and production of fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest and by 2040 for the most polluting fossil fuels, while acknowledging the need for wealthier countries to do so much earlier.
  2. Call for a global phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and ensure that all G20 countries agree to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 (including tax concessions and funds through multilateral development banks), while recognizing the need for wealthier countries to do so much earlier.
  3. Adopt a “just transition” plan towards human rights-consistent renewable energy and ensure that climate policies address the concerns of most affected groups and communities.
  4. Guarantee that COVID-19 response measures facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a human rights-consistent, zero-carbon economy, and the creation of new jobs that deliver sustainable employment for all workers without discrimination.

III. Ensure that at the COP26 on November 1-12, parties:

  1. Adopt a global commitment to reduce emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050, and to do so in a human rights-compliant manner.
  2. Do not adopt multilateral mechanisms for carbon trading under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement that do not produce genuine emission reductions. Any such mechanisms should exponentially enhance climate ambition and must include human rights safeguards, and a requirement to reflect these mirrored in domestic law. These must include provisions obliging parties to carry out human rights impacts assessments before adopting a project, policy or programme under Article 6. Safeguards should also ensure access to information and adequate public participation of affected individuals and communities, in particular minority communities, and respect of the right of free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, including when states would like to make use of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge in climate change measures. An independent, accessible and effective grievance mechanism should also be put in place to ensure that communities can seek remedy for any harm caused by projects carried out under Article 6.
  3. Agree on adequate mechanisms to mobilize new and additional finances, separate from finance available for climate change adaptation and beyond insurance, to provide means, support and remedy, including compensation, to people and communities whose rights have been negatively affected as the result of loss and damage caused by the climate crisis in climate-vulnerable, lower-income countries. New financing should ensure meaningful participation of the most affected groups, including children, women, Indigenous peoples and marginalized groups, particularly those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, in policy design and decision-making phases.
  4. Adopt a more ambitious target for climate finance from 2025.
  5. Adopt a new and adequate Action for Climate Empowerment (“ACE”) Work Programme on climate education, public participation and access to information, capable of promoting the effective implementation of human rights-consistent climate policies.

IV. Press wealthy industrialized countries to commit to zero emissions

The U.S. government should press wealthy industrialized countries to adopt a commitment to achieve zero emissions by 2030 or as soon as possible after that in multilateral forums, including the Leaders’ Climate Summit and the G7 Leaders’ Summit. States should submit ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDCs”) well ahead of COP26 that reflect this commitment.

As wealthy industrialized countries, which have historically contributed the most to the climate crisis, G7 countries have the responsibility to reduce their emissions faster than others and to achieve zero emissions well before 2050 to avoid putting an excessive burden on lower-income countries. Adopting a firm commitment on this regard at the Leaders’ Summit on Earth Day or at the G7 Leaders’ Summit in June would set a positive example for other G20 members and all other countries who still need to submit more ambitious NDCs, thus putting the world on a better track to keep the increase of global average temperature below 1.5°C.

V. Support low-income and climate-vulnerable countries in their efforts to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.

As one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, the U.S. government should:

  1. Substantially increase climate finance for low-income and climate-vulnerable countries that are reeling from irreversible damages and need urgent support for adaptation and mitigation efforts, especially as COVID-19 has impacted their economies. To that end, the U.S. government should reinstate the U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund.
  2. Support the mobilization of new and additional finance to address loss and damage and ensure effective remedy is provided to all those who suffer human rights violations because of the climate crisis, both domestically and abroad.
  3. Support and fund COVID-19 recovery plans that facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels and towards human rights-consistent, zero-carbon economy, and the creation of new jobs that deliver sustainable employment for all workers without discrimination.
  4. Enhance U.S. international agencies’ capacity to monitor both corporate and governmental compliance with environment protection agreements and international treaties, and pursue appropriate legal remedies for noncompliance.
  5. Robustly fund international disaster response programs and domestic emergency assistance programs to help respond effectively to climate events.
  6. Ensure U.S. development finance agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (“USAID”) and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, end financing of fossil fuel extraction, and move toward a complete phase-out of fossil fuel financing through bilateral assistance, trade promotion and export finance.
  7. Ensure that both U.S. trade and investment policy support shifts to a renewable energy future which guarantees affordable clean energy for all and incentivizes companies to create technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

VI. Support the creation of a UN Human Rights Council (“UNHRC”) Special Procedure on human rights and climate change

The U.S. government should support the creation of a UNHRC Special Procedure on human rights and climate change, as this would elevate the work of the Council on the climate crisis and help states to address the urgent threats to human rights posed by the climate emergency.

VII. Support the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The U.S. government should fully support a resolution recognizing the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Amnesty International has joined with more than 1,000 other organizations to urge the UNHRC to recognize this right, given the imperative need to address the existential threat to human rights that climate change and environmental degradation pose. At the ongoing session of the Human Rights Council, 15 UN agencies have supported this call, while more than 60 states have endorsed a joint statement in support for a dialogue into a possible international recognition of this right.

VIII. Protect Environmental Human Rights Defenders

In 2020 alone, more than 331 human rights defenders (“HRDs”) were killed around the globe. Sixty-nine percent of those killed were working on land, Indigenous, and environmental rights. Environmental human rights defenders (“EHRDs”) work in extremely hostile environments, facing serious risks because of their work. They are routinely the targets of death threats, intimidation, smear campaigns, beatings, forced evictions, gender-based violence, racial and ethnic discrimination, judicial harassment and criminalization, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and even murder.

Recommendations – The U.S. government should:

  1. Substantially increase political and diplomatic effort given to the protection of EHRDs and urge foreign governments to guarantee, with adequate measures and sufficient resources, their protection.
  2. Encourage governments to recognize publicly, at the highest levels, the legitimate and important work of human rights defenders, especially those working on issues related to land, territory and the environment.
  3. Press governments to launch prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into threats, attacks, and killings of human rights defenders, and to bring those responsible to justice, including the intellectual authors of those crimes.
  4. Urge governments refrain from using language that stigmatizes, abuses, disparages, or discriminates against human rights defenders, including characterizing them as: “terrorists,”, “enemies of the state,” “opponents,” “anti-development,” or “criminals”.
  5. Ensure that the U.S. government implements robust, public-facing operational guidelines that help embassies to establish open, clear, secure, and sustained lines of communication with human rights defenders under threat based on the model of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. There also need to be internal guidelines prioritizing the support and protection of human rights defenders as a foreign policy priority. These guidelines should be developed in consultation with human rights defenders in the United States and in host countries. Consultations should reflect the diversity of human rights defenders and should not be limited to large civil society organizations, organizations that receive U.S. government funding, or those that are based in large cities. The guidelines should also be translated into local languages and posted prominently on U.S. embassy websites.
  6. Publicly designate a human rights officer at every post to support human rights defenders.
  7. Continue its efforts to scale up the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Defenders, which has played an impactful role in helping civil society organizations around the world connect with relevant offices at the State Department.

IX. Support refugees and migrants impacted by the climate crisis

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, most displaced people around the world are situated in “climate change hotspots,” and an increasing number of camps for refugees and internally displaced people are affected by extreme weather events. This leaves displaced people exposed to secondary or repeated displacement. Refugees and migrants also face specific challenges following extreme weather events, such as barriers to accessing crucial or even life-saving information and disaster relief, loss of identity documents necessary to prove regular status or support their asylum application, and disruption of specific services.

Many displacement emergencies develop in border areas that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of their geographic location, general prevailing conditions, or relative isolation from political decision‐making. For example, Rohingya refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar have been hosted since 2017 in the border district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which the World Bank predicts will be the district worst hit by climate change in all of South Asia by 2050. In 2020, Bangladesh’s government began carrying out its plan to relocate up to 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, a previously uninhabited low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal, putting the refugees at high risk of flooding and other extreme weather events.

Despite being among the groups most affected by disasters, including those related to climate change, migrants and refugees face significant barriers to inclusion and participation in decision-making processes in general, and more specifically to those related to disaster reduction and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Recommendations – The U.S. government should:

  1. Accommodate and establish equitable and predictable pathways to protection for both refugees and climate migrants, and work with other governments and the United Nations to meet the needs of people displaced by the climate change.
  2. Ensure meaningful, effective and informed participation of migrants and refugees in decision-making processes related to climate change and human mobility.

Amnesty International’s experts stand ready to provide briefings on any issues outlined above. Please do not hesitate to contact me at 202/281-0017 and [email protected].


Joanne Lin

National Director, Advocacy and Government Affairs

Amnesty International USA