Global Mandate Holders Adopt Joint Declaration on Climate Crisis and Freedom of Expression

Irene Khan,
UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Four global mandate holders on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information on May 3, 2024, adopted a Joint Declaration on Climate Crisis and Freedom of Expression to commemorate the 2024 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) at the Global Conference organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Santiago, Chile.

The mandate holders: the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa adopted the Declaration against the background that climate crisis poses an unprecedented global challenge, requiring informed, inclusive and open debate to promote prompt and decisive actions.

The joint Declaration makes recommendations in five broad areas for stakeholders as follows: access to information regarding environmental and climate issues; ensuring an enabling environment for public participation and civic engagement; upholding environmental journalism to scrutinise climate actions and enhance public debate; access to justice in climate and environmental matters; and the protection of marginalized groups.

It elaborates on actions that stakeholders including States, corporations, online platforms, media self-regulatory bodies, and media outlets, among others should take to address the issue.

It notes that debates will enable people to make informed decisions, and facilitate meaningful interaction among policymakers, scientific experts, academics, civil society, journalists, private companies, States and international organizations, and would take into account the knowledge, insights and perspectives of those directly affected by climate change.

The Declaration states that the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), is critical for informed debate and action pointing out that it includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, and through any media.

Acknowledging that enhancing access to information and promoting transparency are crucial for tackling the climate crisis, the Declaration called on States to uphold the principle of maximum disclosure regarding environmental and climate issues by making available to the public all information they have in an accessible, effective, and timely manner.

It also urged corporations to produce and disclose to all relevant stakeholders detailed information on the human rights and environmental impact of their operations and, where relevant, any remedial measures they have taken.

The Declaration notes that creating the conditions which support free expression and civic participation for journalists, media outlets, civil society organizations, environmental and other human rights defenders and everyone in society is essential to drive meaningful action to address the climate crisis.

Journalism, the Declaration states, acts as a catalyst for public debate, facilitating informed decision-making on the climate crisis, noting that journalists and media outlets face significant challenges and barriers when carrying out this vital function.

It states that access to justice is a cornerstone in the pursuit of environmental protection while safeguarding the right to freedom of expression.