Disabled climate activists say the failure of the UK and other governments to include disabled people in key parts of the Glasgow climate change agreement is “beyond disgraceful”.
Despite campaigners repeatedly highlighting through the COP26 conference how climate change was having a disproportionate impact on disabled people across the planet, the final text (PDF) of the United Nations agreement mentions disabled people only once.
The repeated omissions from key areas of the text appear to breach the UN’s own Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which makes it clear in article four that governments should “closely consult with” and “actively involve” disabled people through their own organisations when making decisions on issues affecting them.
Two weeks ago, three disabled campaigners told an event at the Glasgow conference that disabled people and their organisations had to be at the heart of policy discussions around climate change, partly because they were disproportionately affected by its impact.
The omission of disabled people from key sections of the final text came after the UK government admitted last week that there had been widespread and serious access failings at the conference in Glasgow.
The final text from the conference was published at the weekend, and has been widely criticised by climate activists for failing to agree strong enough action to limit global warming to 1.5C.
But it also ignores repeated calls for disabled people to play a key role in the development of climate change policy.
The text’s single reference to disabled people is in the introduction to the agreement – the preamble – and mentions them only in passing.
It then goes on to stress the “important role” of indigenous peoples and groups including “youth and children” in responding to climate change, but it omits disabled people.
It also acknowledges the “important role of a broad range of stakeholders” in “averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”, but again fails to mention disabled people.
Most worryingly, in the final section, on “collaboration”, the agreement makes a series of references to the importance of involving other groups in addressing the climate disaster.
It recognises the “important role” of indigenous peoples, local communities, young people and children, but not disabled people.
It calls on governments to respect their obligations on “gender equality and empowerment of women”, but it fails to mention disability equality.
It also urges governments to ensure “meaningful youth participation and representation” in decision-making processes, but it fails to call for them to ensure disabled people are also involved.
And it calls on governments to “actively involve indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action”, and to increase the participation of women in climate action and ensure “gender-responsive implementation”, but it omits any similar mention of disabled people.
Dzaier Neil, convenor of the Green Party’s disability group, said the exclusion from key parts of the final text sent a “disturbing message” to disabled people.
She said: “It is beyond disgraceful that COP26 makes scant reference to those with disabilities and no commitment whatsoever to collaboration with them.”
She said that 15 per cent of the world’s population are disabled, which was “1.2 billion people who are disproportionately affected by climate change and are likely to lack the economic stability to cope with its impact.
“It is a glaring omission in the context of the references to engagement and collaboration with other groups and seems at odds with the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“The governments of the world need to pay more than lip service to this and offer the involvement and consultation that the convention requires.”
Disabled climate activist Pauline Castres said it was a repeat of the Paris agreement of six years ago, with a brief mention in the preamble and “no clear commitments from governments to engage with disabled people, especially with DDPOs* and not just disability charities”.
She said: “It contrasts with specific action plans previously agreed and implemented on gender and to support the inclusion of indigenous peoples.
“Disability remains an optional aspect of climate plans despite the disproportionate effect extreme climate events have on disabled people.”
She highlighted several CRPD articles that make it clear that disabled people’s human rights should be protected in response to climate change, including article 11, which calls for “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of disabled people in situations of risk”, and article 32, which obliges governments to “ensure that international cooperation… is inclusive of and accessible to” disabled people.
Fitton said: “There is a brief mention of disabled people in the preamble but whilst the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society, women, youth and children has been rightly and explicitly recognised in addressing and responding to climate change, disabled people… who are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, have been overlooked in the text and are not included as key stakeholders.
“This must change.”
She said Inclusion Scotland was calling on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “to recognise disabled people and their representative organisations as a constituency in the international response to climate change”.
She said: “Disabled people must be viewed as key stakeholders in the development of international and domestic climate policy with meaningful participation in climate action, including design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all climate-related policies, initiatives and finance.
“There can be no climate justice without the active involvement of disabled people, it’s as simple as that.”
The UK government, which hosted COP26, failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on the omission of disabled people from the key parts of the final text, and the apparent breach of CRPD.
The UN’s own committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had also failed to comment by noon today.
The committee has also failed so far to comment on the COP26 access failures, despite being first approached on 8 November.
*Deaf and disabled people’s organisations
Picture of activists at COP26 by UNclimatechange
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