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EOP on Climate Change
June 27, 2014

Explanation of Position by the Delegation of the United States of America
As Delivered by David Sullivan

UN Human Rights Council – 26th Session
June 27, 2014

The United States thanks the Philippines and Bangladesh for their continued dedication to an issue of tremendous importance to all countries.  We recognize that climate change is an urgent, complex, and far-reaching global challenge.  Addressing climate change requires cooperation among all nations – for any effective solution to climate change depends upon all nations taking responsibility for their own actions and for our planet.  The United States has recently re-emphasized our continued firm commitment to addressing this challenge at home and with our partners around the world.  Furthermore, as we said regarding the last resolution on this topic, we agree that the effects of climate change have a range of direct and indirect implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights.  On that basis, we will join consensus on this resolution.

At the same time, this resolution raises a number of serious concerns for the United States.

We regret that the sponsors missed an opportunity to discuss climate change issues through a true human rights lens.  That means ensuring that States respect their human rights obligations to persons in their territories when they react to climate change.  By including language in the resolution on issues beyond the competence and expertise of this body, the sponsors have attempted to insert the Human Rights Council into expert climate negotiations taking place in other UN fora.  The result could be misinterpreted in a way that would risk sabotaging existing initiatives that have the potential to meaningfully address climate change.  Therefore, we want to make clear that the language of this resolution will in no way affect what is considered acceptable and has been agreed on in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In addition, we interpret this resolution’s reaffirmation of human rights instruments as applicable to the extent countries affirmed those instruments in the first place.  Regarding the resolution’s multiple references to the right to development, the United States position on this issue is well known, and applies here.  Further, we understand the phrases used in this text to refer to many human rights as shorthand for the more accurate and widely accepted terms, consistent with their phrasing in the applicable international covenants, and we maintain our longstanding positions on those rights.

The resolution’s unnecessary and inappropriately selective quotations from the UNFCCC, to which the United States is a party, and its Conference of Parties (COP) decisions, also raise concerns.  We understand the quotations from the UNFCCC and COP decisions as acknowledging that the Convention and those Decisions contain the stated provisions.  They do not mean the Council itself has endorsed the content of such provisions.  Of course, the applicability of these quotations and the concepts they describe is limited to the context of that carefully negotiated Convention.  Furthermore, to the extent that the language in this resolution might be misused in the context of the UNFCCC or elsewhere to reinterpret carefully negotiated climate change decisions about climate impacts and vulnerability, financial and technical support, or responsibility for climate action, we underscore that we will stand by the UNFCCC decisions.

While we appreciate the tremendous work by everyone who participated in the negotiation of this resolution, this text suffers from failure to take into consideration a diverse range of views.  To a great and unfortunate degree, it addresses the issue in polarized terms of north versus south opposition.  We believe that approach is the wrong way for this Council to address such important and challenging issues.  We strongly recommend that the Council’s future work on this topic be led by a cross-regional core group that includes representation of a range of valid perspectives.  That will allow a future session of this Council to take a less divisive and more effective approach to this important issue that we all face.