BERLIN– The top UN human rights official said on Friday it was important to protect “civic space” for young environmental activists to underscore the urgency of tackling climate change.
Volker Türk, who heads the UN’s human rights office, said that while the world still has a lot of work to do to curb global warming, even the progress that has been made would not have been achieved without the youth protests.
“I think we should all be eternally grateful to the young people who are stepping up, who are advocating, who make us realize what, in fact, their lives are going to be like if we don’t act today,” he said. he said at a press conference in Geneva.
“And we need to make sure that the civic space for them is protected and safeguarded, and not crack down like we’ve seen in many parts of the world,” Türk added.
There have been growing calls in Germany, Britain, Australia and elsewhere to stop activists from blocking roads and airports in protest at the harmful effects of car and air travel.
German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said on Thursday that activists who tried to block two of the country’s airports this week, causing minor delays at one of them, “have nothing to do with a legitimate protest”.
He called on the state to “resolutely defend itself against these criminals”, arguing that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be backed by a democratic majority.
Türk, the UN official, described climate change as “the biggest challenge of our time”.
“It affects the enjoyment of all rights,” he said – a position increasingly shared by some courts.
Türk said recent landmark decisions in Germany and the Netherlands, which concluded that failure to prevent dangerous climate change will undermine the human rights of young people and future generations, show that the problem is “really a question of intergenerational justice”.
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