Climate change and corporate accountability brought to CESCR's attention during review of Australia
The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called attention to the case of an Australian bank which had financed the Phnom Penh sugar plantation which was responsible for the seizure and destruction of housing and land of more than 20 villages in Kampong Speu province. Many of the victims of those forced evictions lived in extreme poverty as a result of losing their land. Victims had been denied access to justice in Cambodia and had filed a complaint with the Australian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. However, they remained concerned about whether justice would be achievable given the lack of independence and accountability of that mechanism. It was noted that climate change detrimentally impacted Covenant rights such as housing, water and sanitation, and health. Due to climate change, Australia had faced and would increasingly experience extremely high temperatures, extreme droughts, more bushfires, sea level rise and ocean acidification, which would lead to increases in heat related illnesses and deaths, respiratory problems, damage and destruction of housing, and water and food shortages. However, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions were increasing in absolute terms. The Government had repealed its carbon trading scheme, had reduced its support to renewable energy, and continued to promote and subsidize coal energy. Those policy settings did not reflect the very serious foreseeable harm to Covenant rights presented by climate change. Our Parallel Report on climate change is available HERE.
Our Joint Parallel Report on corporate accountability is available HERE.
Our oral intervention reads:
Oral Statement to the UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
on the occasion of its consideration of the 5th report of Australia
29 May, 2017, Geneva
I would like to address two issues – the first is abuses of Covenant rights in the operations and supply and value chains of Australian businesses – the second is Australian policies on climate change.
Our joint Report on corporate accountability calls attention to a case in Cambodia. An Australian bank financed the Phnom Penh Sugar plantation which was responsible for the seizure and destruction of housing and land of over 20 villages in Kampong Speu province. Today, many of the victims of these forced evictions live in extreme poverty as a result of losing their land. Families are deeply indebted, children are taken out of school and people can no longer access medical care. Those who speak out have faced threats, intimidation, and arrest.
Victims have been denied access to justice in Cambodia and filed a complaint with the Australian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, but they remain concerned about whether justice will be achievable given the lack of independence and accountability of this mechanism.
Australia must take measures to ensure that, throughout their operations and supply and value chains, Australian businesses, including banks, do not contribute to the violation of economic, social and cultural rights. Such measures should include mandatory human rights due diligence and public reporting and access to effective remedies for victims.
The current government Inquiry into the establishment of a Modern Slavery Act is encouraging, but it should be extended beyond labour rights to other violations of Covenant rights.
Climate change detrimentally impacts Covenant rights such as housing, water and sanitation and health. Due to climate change Australia has and will increasingly experience:
extremely high temperatures, more extreme droughts, more bushfires, more extreme rainfall events, but overall a drop in rainfall, sea level rise and ocean acidification.
These impacts will cause:
increases in heat related illness and deaths, respiratory problems, vector borne diseases, damage and destruction of housing, water and food shortages and so on....
And yet, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are increasing in absolute terms and analysts predict that with current policy settings, Australia will not meet its Paris Agreement target. The Australian government repealed its carbon trading scheme, has reduced its support to renewable energy and continues to promote and subsidise coal energy.  
These policy settings do not reflect the very serious foreseeable harm to Covenant rights, presented by climate change.
We call on the Australian government to:
Revise its climate change and energy targets and policy settings, to more strongly reflect the serious risks to Covenants rights, and to immediately reverse the current trend of increasing absolute emissions of greenhouse gases.
 For instance, in the first half of 2016 Australia’s emissions increased .8 per cent from 2015 levels. Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: June 2016; https://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-measurement/publications/quarterly-update-australias-national-greenhouse-gas-inventory-jun-2016.
 Climate Council, Unburnable Carbon: why we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground (2015).
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