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The world’s richest governments are effectively condemning millions of people to starvation, drought and displacement through their continued support of the fossil fuel industry, Amnesty International said today. The organization’s new policy briefing offers a damning assessment of global failures to protect human rights from climate change, and outlines how human rights law can help hold governments and companies to account.  

Ahead of the G7 Leaders’ Summit  (June 11-13), Amnesty highlighted how G7 members are still subsidizing the coal, oil and gas industry, and have no credible plans to begin significantly phasing out all fossil fuels during this decade. All G7 members have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but none has submitted an adequate strategy to reduce emissions by 2030 – the year by which global emissions need to be halved in order to avert the worst-case climate scenarios.  

“The unambitious climate plans submitted by G7 members represent a violation of the human rights of billions of people. These are not administrative failures, they are a devastating, mass-scale assault on human rights,” said Chiara Liguori, Amnesty International’s Human Rights and Environment Policy Advisor. 

“The G7 and other wealthy industrialized countries have historically emitted the most carbon and bear the greatest responsibility for the current climate crisis. They also have the most resources to tackle it – but their strategies to date have been woefully inadequate, and their support for other countries has been stingy. 

“At the G7 Leaders’ Summit, governments must commit to unconditionally phasing out all fossil fuels, as close to 2030 as is technically feasible. They must put in place tough regulations requiring businesses to shift to renewable energy, and stop using our taxes to subsidize the deadly fossil fuel industry.” 

Amnesty International is calling on all governments to adopt and implement ambitious national climate plans which reflect their individual levels of responsibility and capacity. Wealthy industrialized countries, including all G7 members, must reach zero carbon emissions as close to 2030 as possible. Middle-income countries with greater capacity, such as China and South Africa, must aim to halve emissions by 2030 or as soon as possible after that, and to reach zero by 2050. Other middle and low-income countries must aim to reach zero by 2050.   

All states must also ensure a just transition for workers and communities affected by climate change and the decarbonization process, taking steps to reduce poverty and correct existing inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights.  This includes prioritizing investment in responsibly produced renewable energy and social protection, whilst supporting the creation of new, green and decent jobs. 

Burning our rights

Amnesty International’s new policy briefing, Stop Burning Our Rights! provides an extensive legal and ethical blueprint for what states and corporations must do to address the climate crisis, help affected people adapt, and ensure remedy for the harm they have caused. It shows how human rights law can guide governments, companies, and activists in the battle against the climate crisis. Around the world, human rights law is increasingly being used to hold governments and companies accountable for their failures to address climate change. 

Under international human rights law, all states must do everything in their power to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, but Amnesty’s briefing contains numerous examples of governments failing in this obligation. 

For example, of the G20 countries, which collectively account for almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, just seven have submitted targets to reduce emissions by 2030 to the UN.  All of these are currently insufficient to keep the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees. 

In fact, support for the fossil fuel industry has continued almost unabated since the Paris Agreement came into force. During the pandemic, many G20 countries provided unconditional economic stimulus measures to fossil fuel and aviation companies – despite knowing full well that subsidizing these industries will harm millions of people. 

 Wealthier states have an obligation to assist lower-income countries, including by providing adequate finance to support the shift to renewable energy, help protect people from climate harms, and to remedy loss and damage. Here too they have failed. So far, at least three quarters of international climate finance has been provided as loans rather than grants. This means lower-income countries have to use their own resources to cover climate-related costs imposed on them by others, contravening obligations on international assistance.  

Just transition 

Amnesty International’s briefing also emphasizes the importance of a just transition that protects human rights. It warns that too many governments are trying to take shortcuts that will exacerbate inequality, relying excessively on unproven technologies or carbon trading mechanisms, some of which can themselves have a catastrophic impact on human rights. For example, large-scale biofuel crop farms to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and conservation projects in Global South countries to offset emissions of wealthier countries can affect food security, livelihoods and access to land of millions of people.  

Decarbonizing the economy is crucial, but without adequate human rights safeguards, mitigation measures risk causing further harm to groups already facing discrimination and marginalization. In addition, most technologies are not currently able to produce substantive negative emissions, and relying on their future development is a dangerous bet. 

“Disadvantaged groups must not pay the price for the inaction of wealthy governments and their connivance with the fossil fuel industry,” said Chiara Liguori. 

“There are no shortcuts to saving the planet and humanity. The only option is to rapidly end the fossil fuel era. We can have human rights or fossil fuels – we can’t have both.”