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

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. highlight / ˈhaɪˌlaɪt / (v.) – to get the attention of people for something very important

    During the meeting, the team leader highlighted the importance of teamwork and communication.

  2. urgency / ˈɜr dʒən si / (n.) – the need to give a solution to a problem quickly

    We discussed the urgency of solving the water shortage in the area.

  3. mobilize / ˈmoʊ bəˌlaɪz / (v.) – to come together to work for and achieve a particular purpose

    Teachers throughout the country mobilized to demand better pay from the government.

  4. blockade / blɒˈkeɪd / (v.) – to surround a place to prevent people or things from going in and out

    The police were commanded to blockade the road to stop violent protesters.

  5. resolutely / ˈrɛz əˌlut li / (adv.) – in a way that’s showing a lot of determination

    She resolutely fought for her opinion.


Read the text below.

The top United Nations human rights official said 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 to curb 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 that activists who tried to blockade two of the country’s airports, 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.”

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Wissing said that activists who tried to blockade two of the country’s airports had nothing to do with legitimate protest. How do you think a protest can be considered legitimate (ex. if they don’t cause disruptions)? Discuss.
  • In your opinion, what should governments do in response to protests or activists (ex. set rules, totally crack down on them)? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Türk said that climate change affects the enjoyment of all human rights. What do you think this means? Discuss.
  • Intergenerational justice is concerned with the responsibility of one generation to another generation. Do you think climate change is truly an issue of intergenerational justice? Why or why not? Discuss.