rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki's picture
Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. He is Companion to the Order of Canada and a recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for science, the United Nations Environment Program medal, the 2009 Right Livelihood Award, and Global 500. Dr. Suzuki is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and holds 26 honorary degrees from universities around the world. He is familiar to television audiences as host of the long-running CBC television program The Nature of Things, and to radio audiences as the original host of CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks, as well as the acclaimed series It's a Matter of Survival and From Naked Ape to Superspecies. His written work includes more than 52 books, 19 of them for children. Dr. Suzuki lives with his wife, Dr. Tara Cullis, and family in Vancouver, B.C.

Environmental deficit tarnishes Canada's rights record

| March 22, 2016

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Many Canadians see our country as a human rights leader, but a United Nations committee says we should do better. In early March, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded that Canada's lack of environmental protection and climate action mars our rights record.

The committee's periodic review of Canada put our country's commitment to providing basic necessities under the spotlight. Although the review's authors commended Canada for several progressive steps, including the recently announced national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, they expressed concern about the systematic lack of action on homelessness, poverty, access to food and other important obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Their recommendations on environmental protection and climate change policy were especially noteworthy. Although it's evident that a healthy environment is the foundation of human rights to food, water, health and livelihood, the committee's decision to push Canada to pursue renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and establish stronger environmental regulations illustrates the growing global recognition of the link between environmental and human rights.

This recognition may be just emerging in international human rights law, but it's nothing new to Indigenous people and many others who directly depend on nature for food and livelihood.

I heard this over and over again this past summer as I travelled with a team along Canada's vast Pacific coast, visiting a dozen communities in the traditional territories of 12 First Nations. These people reside along 26,000  kilometres of British Columbia’s winding shoreline -- home to trillions of plankton, billions of fish, millions of seabirds and thousands of whales, which live among forests of kelp and eelgrass, along underwater canyons and glass sponge reefs.  

During the tour, we were welcomed with feasts that embodied the intersection of nature, food and culture, and we conducted more than 1,500 profoundly moving interviews with coastal residents. They expressed fears about threats to their way of life, including industrial projects that will catastrophically affect the environment and their livelihoods being approved with little or no consultation. They spoke passionately about the connection between a healthy environment and economic, cultural and social rights -- because they live it every day.

One Pacific coast resident said, "When the fish come home or pass by Campbell River this whole community comes alive. Without the fish, a large piece of our island culture goes with them." Another observed, "When we think of human rights, we think of equality, freedom, democracy. But what good are any of those if we don’t have clean air, soil and water? It has to start with nature."

These and many other statements from Pacific coastal residents, which formed the basis of a David Suzuki Foundation submission to the UN committee, resonated at the international level. Observations of the effects of climate change on their communities -- including unpredictable and extreme weather, decreasing snow and ice, water shortages, wildfires and salmon spawning failures -- mirror the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This is a critical moment for Canadians as we face mounting pressure from climate change, ocean acidification and industrial development. With the longest coastline of any nation, our country holds a globally significant responsibility to protect its oceans, which are under threat from failures to address carbon emissions and ensure marine protection and management. Canada can start by acting on its commitment to protect 10 per cent of its marine environment by 2020, and by putting strict targets on greenhouse gas emissions.

We could also go a long way toward meeting our international human rights obligations by joining more than 110 nations in constitutionally recognizing the right to a healthy environment. Taking immediate steps to restore and enhance robust environmental protection, fully respect Indigenous rights to title and consultation, and protect ocean ecosystems from degradation and climate change is essential.

The growing international recognition of the disproportionate impacts on Indigenous and vulnerable people enhances the understanding that protecting the environment is as much about social justice as keeping ecosystems healthy.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Canada has the opportunity to mark the milestone by legally protecting all Canadians'environmental rights and by recognizing that healthy oceans are a necessary condition for human health and dignity.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Healthy Oceans Communications Specialist Panos Grames.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

embedded_video

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.