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America's UN Promises: Contradictions within Foreign Policy?

Posted By IRC, Monday, September 18, 2017
Updated: Monday, July 10, 2017

In June, the United States joined a United Nations resolution supporting the protection of human rights from the impact of climate change. Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Vietnam – all developing, coastal countries most affected by the consequences of climate change – introduced the resolution to the UN Human Rights Council on June 22, 2017. When the text was first introduced it was unclear whether the U.S. would support the resolution, given the Trump administration's past actions regarding international climate change (such as withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and refusing to endorse a joint statement on climate change at the G7 summit in Italy in May).

The U.S. had a few routes they could have taken with respect to the resolution in the UN Human Rights Council. They could have voted against it, abstained from voting, or voted in favor of it. If they were to vote against it, it would have actively undermined the action towards supporting protection of human rights from the impact of climate change. Or the U.S. could have been more passive and abstained from voting. But by actively supporting the resolution, it shows the rest of the world that the U.S. is still interested in continuing, at least at some level, a proactive international climate change initiative that characterized the Obama administration.

The resolution itself acknowledges that climate change is impacting human rights and states have to take action to address climate change. Although the resolution is not binding, it calls on participating countries to take steps to better integrate human rights into climate action. Specifically, the resolution focuses on two specific issues. The first issue is that children are the most vulnerable groups to the impacts of climate change. The resolution insists on the recognition of existing obligations under international law for governments and businesses to protect the rights and interests of children when taking climate change action. The resolution also addresses the challenges climate-induced migrants face. These challenges include anything from rising sea levels to flooding arable land.

Debates and negotiations within the UN regarding the interlinkage between climate change and human rights have been going on for many years. Although American support represents a global consensus on the resolution, it hardly counters the Trump administration’s policy steps the past few months. Most recently, Trump has promised to end U.S. payments to the Green Climate Fund, a finance mechanism meant to help developing countries pay for climate adaptation and mitigation projects. But part of the human rights resolution that the U.S. signed calls on developed countries to continue payments to the Green Climate Fund, something the Trump administration has explicitly promised it will not do; this shows where the current administration’s policies are at odds with the UN human rights resolution. 


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Avery Dorsey is a third-year senior at American University in Washington D.C., and is studying for a degree in International Relations with a minor in Chinese.

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