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An Opportunity to Create Impact for Climate Justice

Originally published on LinkedIn by Lisa Manley, Vice President, Sustainability at Mars

At Mars, we focus a lot of our attention on the environmental risks of climate change and the role business plays to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are also highly focused on human rights and the responsibility companies have to respect the rights of people in workplaces, supply chains and communities around the world. However, the actions and conversations around climate change and human rights rarely intersect. As a result, we’re missing an opportunity to scale our collective impact by making these critical agendas far more personal and pragmatic.

It’s impossible to separate climate change from inequality and injustice. For decades, the wealthiest countries, companies and people have been the largest contributors to the climate crisis, leaving the poorest communities to face the consequences. This impacts many people around the world, from indigenous communities fighting to protect their forests and residents of small island nations facing rising sea levels to those in vulnerable communities in the United States experiencing health risks from living near manufacturing plants that pollute the water and air.

The examples of glaring inequalities worldwide due to environmental racism are extensive, but there is hope for change. In the last several years, we’ve witnessed a massive uptick in young people taking to the streets to elevate conversations around the threat of climate change. The next generation understands the link between climate change and human rights because, for them, it’s a matter of fighting for their lives.

Beyond youth activism we’re also seeing some remarkable judicial action on the topic of climate justice. There have been more than 50 lawsuits in the past five years alone that aim to drive climate action with an explicit focus on human rights.

In the Netherlands, The Urgenda Foundation, an environmental group created by some 900 Dutch citizens, sued the government for not doing enough to prevent global climate change, putting human rights at the center of a legal argument about greenhouse gas emissions. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands concluded the government is responsible for addressing climate change and that it must decrease emissions by 25% by the end of 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).

The human rights and environmental law communities expect an increasing number of cases to follow this precedent. In the U.S., a group of 21 young plaintiffs filed Juliana v. United States seeking to force the U.S. government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to end fossil fuel subsidies. By sharing their stories about how rising sea levels and wildfire smoke affected them personally, the diverse group of plaintiffs argued that the federal government violated their constitutional rights by causing dangerous carbon dioxide concentrations. While the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed action is needed, it concluded in January that climate change is not an issue for the courts.

3 Ways Mars is Pushing the Climate Justice Movement Forward

Companies like Mars also have an important role to play in the climate justice movement. There are three things that, if done at scale, truly would make a difference.

  1. We must set emission reduction targets in line with climate science. Today, there are 420 companies that have approved science-based targets and Mars is among them. By using science as our guide, we are establishing a pathway for action that avoids the worst impacts to the most vulnerable people. In this regard, ambitious climate targets are social targets too.
  2. We have a responsibility to conduct due diligence to identify and respond to risks in our operations and supply chains. Mars has been conducting voluntary human rights due diligence on our direct operations and supply chains, and we continue to expand this work. We also support strengthened regulation of human rights due diligence requirements for companies in global supply chains, aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  3. We must use our voice and political power to advocate for climate action and climate justice. Mars has been a vocal advocate for climate action and we are leaning in on climate justice through our support of “Climate Countdown,” the Guardian newspaper’s special series on climate change that runs until Nov. 4, when the U.S. is set to leave the Paris climate accord.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown we are all connected and that the fate of humanity is directly tied to the health of nature. It’s also shown we are capable of moving beyond the status quo and advancing fast, revolutionary change. We have a common destiny and we must continue to engage on the important topic of climate justice. 

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