Anna Triponel | 10 December 2020
This article was first published in Medium here
Today is Human Rights Day. What a year it has been for us all.
Anyone reading the news will know about the heightened human rights challenges we are facing — ranging from enhanced inequality and vulnerability to entrenched discrimination, and a greater urgency to tackle our climate crisis. Of course, every one of us has faced our own personal challenges this year. 2020 has been a year unlike any other, that has left us, at best, trying to juggle work, family, quarantine, and economic uncertainty or, at worst, losing beloved family members. Beyond the palpable challenges, we have had to face the fear of the unknown, the letting go of what once was, and the grief that goes with that.
On last year’s Human Rights Day, I spoke about the increase in legislation related to business and human rights. This has only intensified this year, with the EU announcing that it will introduce mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation. (You can read more about the ongoing discussions and what the law might include here, here and here.)
This time last year I also spoke about the increase in attacks on individuals — community members, indigenous groups, workers and civil society members — seeking to shine a spotlight on the negative impacts of business. This has only intensified this year — with COVID-19 being used by authorities as a pretext to further silence and crackdown on dissenting voices.
And last but not least, a year ago today, I spoke about the need to see human rights and climate change as inextricably linked. This need has intensified this year, with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) finding that — notwithstanding the many adjustments that have been made to our economies — this year will be one of the three hottest, just behind 2016 and 2019. The WMO finds despite the world coming to a standstill, carbon emissions continued — almost unabated. And the resulting harm on people — from the climate crisis, but also from some of the responses to the climate crisis — continue, also unabated.
On this Human Rights Day, I come to one conclusion: I strongly believe that any of us living today will be judged by posterity.
Just as our predecessors were judged following World War Two in how they responded to the atrocities of the war — leading then to the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly, which we are celebrating today — we will be judged by how we respond to the climate crisis.
We will be judged by our children, and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, on the actions we take today to make the world safer, cleaner and fairer for everyone.
We don’t have the luxury of time. A couple of months ago, a huge ice shelf tore itself apart in northeast Greenland — this summer’s warmth was the final nail in the coffin. Discussions regarding ‘tipping points’ have amplified. This is where a relatively small change in the climate could suddenly trigger an abrupt or irreversible change. In other words, the damage to our planet is not linear: tip over one domino and a whole series of dominoes could follow — with disastrous and irreversible consequences to the planet and all those living on it.
Of course, I recognise the privileged role I can play by virtue of my work as a business and human rights advisor. I have access on a daily basis to decision-makers within organisations, companies and investors with huge impact and potential. I advise on strategies, I influence policies and processes, and I help create culture change. With this privilege comes responsibility, and I take seriously my duty to help educate and empower professionals, and enable creative solutions to tackling the climate crisis in a way that places people at its core.
But we can all play a role — whether as voters, consumers, professionals and parents. We can vote for change, we can reward change, we can push for change and we can educate and inspire. It doesn’t matter how we do it, what matter is that we do. And — to borrow words from anthropologist Margaret Mead — never doubt that your actions, however small, can create change; indeed, it’s the only way that ever has.
Climate activist Al Gore said recently: “it’s a privilege to have work that justifies pouring every ounce of energy you have into it.” I agree. Going further, it’s a privilege to live in a time where our actions, decisions and choices will leave an indelible mark on humanity and the planet for centuries to come. So, on this Human Rights Day, what is the mark you want to leave on the world?