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UN rights chief: Protect ‘civic space’ for climate activists

BERLIN (AP) — The top United Nations human rights official said Friday that it’s important to protect the “civic space” for young environmental activists to highlight the urgency of tackling climate change.

Volker Türk, who heads the U.N.’s human rights office, said that while the world still has a lot of work to do curbing global warming, even the progress made wouldn’t have been achieved without youth protests.

“I think we should all be eternally grateful to the young people that mobilize, that advocate, that make us aware of what, in fact, their lives are going to be if we are not taking action today,” he told a news conference in Geneva.

“And we should make sure that the civic space for them is protected and safeguarded, and not crack down in a way that we have 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 against the harmful effects of car and plane travel.

Germany’s transport minister, Volker Wissing, said Thursday that activists who tried to blockade two of the country’s airports this week, causing minor delays at one of them, “have nothing to do with legitimate protest.”

He called for the state to “resolutely defend itself against these criminals,” arguing that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions need to be backed by a democratic majority.

Türk, the U.N. official, described climate change as “the biggest challenge of our times.”

“It affects enjoyment of all rights,” he said — a position increasingly shared by some courts.

Türk said recent landmark rulings in Germany and the Netherlands, which concluded that failure to prevent dangerous climate change will harm the human rights of young people and future generations, show the issue is “really about inter-generational justice.”


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