The term “disability” covers a wide range of conditions that limit a person’s ability to perform certain activities. Included in this group are people who have limitations in vision, hearing, speech, cognition, and mobility. They exist and are scattered everywhere and are divided according to gender, age, religion, race, ethnicity, and economic condition which influences their life experiences and health needs. According to the WHO report (2021) an estimated 1.3 billion people or 16% of the world’s population currently experience significant disabilities. In Indonesia alone it is estimated around 23 million people are disable. This number continues to increase along with the longer life expectancy.

The UN Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have specifically acknowledged the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on persons with disabilities, and have therefore called on the Governments of each country to adopt an inclusive human rights-based approach to combating the climate crisis.

Disability Inclusion in Global Climate Commitments and Policies

The inclusion of persons with disabilities adopted in the Paris Agreement (PA) emphasizes the rights and obligations of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change. It then recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities in climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, and disability inclusion in the decision making process of national climate change policies.

Under the PA, Parties are required to submit a post-2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) every five years, reporting progress made against their ambitious targets in reducing the emission compared to the previous NDC. However, Indonesia, unfortunately, is not part of the countries that include persons with disabilities in their NDC. Only 35 out of 192 countries do so. Of these 35 countries, Indonesia may learn experience of the 10 following countries: Sri Lanka, Palestine, Jordan, Cambodia, Canada, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Papua New Guinea.

Furthermore, none of the Parties currently refers to persons with disabilities in climate change mitigation policies. Failure to include persons with disabilities in climate mitigation actions may result in outcomes that are inconsistent with the rights of persons with disabilities. For example, while the development of sustainable transport systems is seen as a key component of the transition to a greener society, these systems are often inaccessible to persons with physical and visual disabilities. The exclusion of persons with disabilities from the planning, implementation and monitoring of mitigation measures also means that the potential contribution of the disability community to reducing carbon emissions is yet to be realized.

Turning to climate change adaptation, based on available reports, only 45 countries  whose adaptation policies refer to persons with disabilities. Again, Indonesia is not included in this group of countries. Examples of some countries that might be used as references are Austria, Chile, Panama, Czech, Poland, Ecuador, Egypt, Slovakia, Estonia, Slovenia, Finland, Solomon Islands, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, Greece, Spain, Sudan, Hungary, Ireland, Thailand, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Mexico.

For persons with disabilities, exclusion from climate adaptation planning can be a matter of life and death. The impacts of climate change are disproportionately impacting persons with disabilities and undermining their rights, including the rights to food and nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, healthcare and medicines, education and training, adequate housing and access to decent jobs. In an emergency situation, for example, persons with disabilities are often the worst affected, with very high morbidity and mortality rates, and are among those least able to access emergency assistance.

Recommended Solutions

From legal perspective, the rights of persons with disabilities are under international human rights law. Furthermore, with respect to climate crisis, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) calls the Governments to undertake three things. The first one is assessing the impact of climate change on persons with disabilities through an inter-sectional approach. Second, developing and implementing evidence-based climate change mitigation and adaptation policies to prevent and minimize the adverse impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities; and the third provides access to information on climate change for persons with disabilities, and strengthens their capacity to participate in climate decision-making. Several countries noted the need for separate data collection on the impact of climate change and disasters on marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities. 

The disability rights approach to climate governance emphasizes the importance of recognizing and protecting the substantive and procedural rights of persons with disabilities in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of climate policies and programs.

Government of Indonesia has not fully fulfilled their obligations in this regard. Indonesia should invite persons with disabilities in its National Determined Contribution (NDC) activities and climate adaptation policies, including providing concrete steps to increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of persons with disabilities. The absent of persons with disabilities in climate decision making policies is particularly troubling, given the evidence that they are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and often negatively affected by measures adopted to reduce carbon emissions.

As such, the Government needs to adopt strategic steps to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected, respected and fulfilled in the climate actions. Strategic measures need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a manner suitable to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial level to limit the adverse impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities.

Although it seems slow in responding to the various impacts of the climate crisis, the 27th Conference of the Parties recently organized in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has agreed on the “loss and damage” fund for countries that are vulnerable to climate disasters. This funding scheme is expected to operate in 2023 at the latest. For Indonesia, this is an opportunity to improve its action plan by including citizens with disabilities as subjects matter rather than just an object of climate actions. By involving the representation of people with disabilities in every decision-making and management processes, with the principle of “Nothing About Us Without Us” we can show our alignment with social inclusion. Hopefully!

This article only reflects the personal view of Mr Doddy Sukadri, UN CC:Learn Ambassador and Executive Director of Yayasan Mitra Hijau (Green Partner Foundation) and Farham Helmy, Principal of Thamrin School of Climate Change and Sustainability and President of Pergerakan Disabilitas dan Lanjut Usia (DILANS-Indonesia).