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COP27 can be a reset on climate justice for people with disabilities

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COP27 can be a reset on climate justice for people with disabilities

From Africa Renewal: 
27 July 2022
The Cancun Agreements at COP16 in Mexico, identified PWDs as disproportionally affected by climate
UNMIL/Staton Winter
The Cancun Agreements at COP16 in Mexico, identified PWDs as disproportionally affected by climate change.
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12 years ago, at COP16, the 2010 Cancun Agreements identified PWDs as disproportionally affected by the climate crisis and emphasized inclusion as an essential element of climate justice. It’s time to deliver.

Nancy Marangu
Nancy Marangu

In Africa, the effects of climate change fall heavily on the shoulders of women, children and persons with disabilities (PWD), especially those living in rural communities. Some of these individuals fall into more than one of these categories, exacerbating the challenge.

Sadly, climate change negotiators and policymakers tend to overlook PWDs more than any other demographic.

Challenges facing PWDs include a lack of research and development and climate policies and plans not being available in multiple readable formats such as braille and other similar technologies used worldwide. Inaccessible websites and the unavailability of sign language interpreters are also common issues.

Many African nations do not have structured guidelines as well as supportive technologies to collect and study data on PWDs, making it difficult to predict with accuracy the populations of PWDs affected by climate change at country or sub-regional levels. 

Kenya is making some progress. According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, 2.2 per cent (900,000) Kenyans live with some form of disability of which 1.9 per cent are men and 2.5 per cent are women; while 700,000 live in rural areas, 200,000 are in urban centres.

The country is also developing systems and databanks that provide data for PWDs affected by climate change. For example, the Nchiru Disability Self Help Group based in Egoji Ward, Meru County, reports that water scarcity caused by changing weather patterns hurts macadamia and avocado farming activities. Severe deforestation due to dependence on firewood as a primary source of energy contributes to carbon emissions while also limiting areas in which crops can be cultivated.

The Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Forestry has supported more than 38 county governments to develop climate change action plans. These plans ought to be translated into vernacular languages and made available in multiple readable formats to increase their access to PWDs. 

Walking the talk

It is puzzling that leaders have not instituted broad-based systems and mechanisms for collecting, analyzing and disseminating data on PWDs directly affected by climatic effects.

Moreover, these leaders have not met their obligations to provide alternate-format communications for PWDs.

It has been more than a decade since the Cancun Agreements at COP16 in Mexico, which identified PWDs as one of the segments of the population whose human rights are disproportionally affected by climate change. The Agreements described inclusion as an essential element of climate justice and recommended that it be a matter of legal and policy compliance at the national planning level.

PWDs deserve a seat at the table in climate negotiations, such as during the Conference of Parties (COP), so they can share their insights, articulate their needs and secure climate justice solutions for themselves. They need equitable access to information platforms and up-to-date learning materials for enhancing their knowledge and participation in climate mainstreaming conversations at every level.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and indeed international human rights law consider the concepts of “inclusion” and “human rights” among the building blocks of climate change response, emphasizing that adaptation measures be participatory, gender-responsive, inclusive, and adequately resourced to avoid all forms of exclusion and marginalization.

The Paris Agreement, too, underscores the importance of engaging PWDs when taking action to address climate change. It urges climate change leaders to take deliberate action to foster inclusion.

COP27: New Beginning 

Despite progress, a lingering bias casts PWDs as people incapable of making climate-smart decisions. This falsehood is unjust and dangerous and must be debunked. PWDs are a rich resource of first-hand experience of the impacts of climate change.

PWDs deserve a seat at the table in climate negotiations, such as during the Conference of Parties (COP), so they can share their insights, articulate their needs and secure climate justice solutions for themselves. They need equitable access to information platforms and up-to-date learning materials for enhancing their knowledge and participation in climate mainstreaming conversations at every level.

COP16, the 2010 Cancun conference
COP16, held in 2010 in Cancun, Mexico identified persons with disabilities as disproportionally affected by the climate crisis and emphasized inclusion as an essential element of climate justice.
UNFCC

We can and must hit the “re-start” button this year at COP27 scheduled for 6–18 November in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Each year, world leaders in business, finance and government gather at COP to discuss solutions and strategies for combating climate change. At Sharm El-Sheikh, they need to walk the talk by fostering inclusion.

The Cancun Adaptation Framework offers a ready-made platform for animating the inclusion equation on climate resilience and enhancing action on adaptation. Governments and corporate leaders will have to take into account their shared and differentiated responsibilities, as well as their capabilities and national and regional development priorities in climate communications. 

One helpful approach is what I call DICE—Decide, Intentionally, Connect and Educate—and borrows from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Cancun Adaptation Framework:

  • Decide, design and implement inclusive climate adaptation programmes that focus on PWDs, particularly those living in rural households, and task PWDs with recommending actions and projects that address their climatic challenges.
  • Intentionally ensure all national programmes comprise inclusive adaptation assessments of technical, operational, personnel and financial resources to ensure equitable resource distribution and allocation among rural households. Long-term, it can mitigate climatic effects and alleviate poverty.
  •  Connect with PWDs and support their engagement through people-centric climate mainstreaming strategies. Empower PWDs to advocate for themselves by translating all documents into vernacular languages and accessible in multiple readable formats.
  • Educate, equip and enlighten PWDs with technical knowledge on adaptation, scientific- and climate-related courses, self-help groups and capacity-building workshops. The more understanding PWDs have about the provisions of the Cancun Agreement, the more valuable their contributions can be.  

DICE can inspire governments, development agencies, civil society actors, academia, and the private sector to work together to rethink resilience based on inclusivity. Stakeholders walking the talk will help Africa fulfil the aspirations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In addition, a multi-sectoral approach will strengthen the research, data collection, analysis, modelling and decision-making needed for designing equitable and inclusive adaptation and mitigation measures to cope with climatic uncertainty for PWDs and other vulnerable populations across our continent.


Nancy Marangu is Executive Director, Chemichemi Foundation, Kenya

Related links: Human Rights Council resolutions on human rights and climate change

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