Why the European Green Deal must be grounded in respect for human rights
7 February 2020
This piece was originally submitted to the EU Commission's consultation on a European climate act putting the Green Deal principles into law.
We strongly support the European Commission’s roadmap towards a Climate Law as set out in its Communication on the European Green Deal. Ambitious climate goals, especially emissions reductions, are urgently needed to address the climate crisis and the EU is well-placed to take the lead.
We especially commend the initiative’s integration of a just transition into the roadmap and its emphasis on setting climate objectives that are implemented in a socially-fair manner. It is important to note that the just transition must encompass both the protection of workers’ and communities’ rights in the transition away from fossil fuels as well as the protection of these rights in renewable energy projects and supply chains. In our experience, a fast transition will have to be a fair one – we see many key clean energy projects stymied or suspended by resistance from publics who fear unjust outcomes.
In order to ensure that these goals are met, we recommend the following elements to be incorporated into the Climate Law and provide supporting evidence in the attached document:
- A recognition that all climate actions by member states ought to be undertaken respecting international human rights standards, including the International Bill of Rights and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
- An expectation for member states’ reports on progress towards the goals of the Climate Law (including reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement) to include an explanation on how climate actions align with and respect international human rights standards and a just transition in all sectors, including fossil fuels and clean energy.
- A commitment to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises while carrying out climate neutrality objectives when climate actions are undertaken with support from private sector actors.
- Inclusion of human rights and environmental due diligence requirements for companies in all sectors, including clean energy, receiving funding from the Just Transition Mechanism or other related funding sources. Similarly, we also recommend inclusion of human rights and environmental due diligence requirements for companies in all sectors, including clean energy, in the Green Deal’s Sustainable Finance Strategy.
Companies and investors have a responsibility to respect human rights as per the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, most renewable energy companies do not currently have in place basic human rights policies and processes, which can help avoid or mitigate abuses and de-risk investment. We surveyed 109 renewable energy companies between 2016 and 2018, nearly half of which (46%) did not have a basic human rights commitment in place. This includes companies based in the EU. 47% of European solar, bioenergy and geothermal companies examined did not have public human rights commitments in place. See more information here.
Yet, evidence shows that renewable energy companies continue to be linked with human rights abuses, rendering stronger human rights due diligence requirements necessary. Since 2010, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has identified 152 allegations of human rights abuses related to renewable energy projects. The frequency of allegations has increased in recent years with one third of these allegations having occurred between 2017- 2019. Abuse allegations include: killings, threats, and intimidation; land grabs; dangerous working conditions and poverty wages; and harm to indigenous peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Allegations have been made in every region and across each of the five sub-sectors of renewable energy development: wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal, and hydropower. See more information here.
Moreover, 87% (20/23) of the top global companies mining key minerals for our urgent transition to a low-carbon economy have been linked to human rights abuse allegations since 2010. At the same time, 61% of them (14/23) have human rights policies in place, revealing the need to move companies from commitments on paper to rigorous and comprehensive human rights due diligence processes, as required under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. See more information here.
Human rights and environmental due diligence requirements provide stronger predictability for investors, member states, and the EU that private sector activities are carried out in a responsible way that meets both climate and social goals of the legislation. Several member states have already introduced or are discussing the introduction of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements, including France, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, etc. For a full list of national initiatives, see here.
Companies and investors alike have spoken out in favor of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation. According to over 50 German companies, “Human rights and environmental due diligence legislation would help create both legal certainty and a level playing field. It would ensure everyone is held to the same standard and no company is able to evade its responsibilities without consequences or make profits at the expense of people and nature.” For a list of companies and investors supportive of such legislation see here.
In conclusion, the goals of the European Green Deal would be substantially strengthened by integrating human rights standards and requirements throughout its legislative framework and implementation mechanisms. We commend the EU Commission for taking on this challenge and offer our support and further information on the above going forward.