Interview with Ellie Waters: Use human rights principles to guide climate risk insurance initiatives


Ellie worked from November 2014 to June 2017 for MCII and UNU-EHS and has contributed greatly to publish MCII’s pro poor principles to promote the respective agenda at G7 InsuResilience. Ellie now moved back to her home country Canada where she works as policy analyst for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Ellie has a background in International Relations and Human Rights.

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we phoned her up to get a few reflections on what the human rights agenda means for climate risk insurance programs and initiatives. She gives her reflection in a personal capacity.

Hey Ellie: Thank you for taking time. First thing first - How are you and what are doing these days?

I am well, thank you. My husband and I are really enjoying our new life up north in Yellowknife, Canada. This is where I’ve started my new position for the Federal Government of Canada where I’m now working in the area of governance, specifically on the modern land and self-government treaties in the Northwest Territories.

Can you quickly give us a run-down: What is the link between climate change and human rights?

It is undeniable that climate change is impacting the human rights of people all around world. The frequency and severity of extreme weather events are affecting the basic rights to life, water, food, and shelter – but also so-called “third-generation rights”, such as the right to self-determination, cultural heritage, or a healthy environment.

There are both direct and indirect impacts: Direct impacts can result from immediate events such as cyclones, storms, and hurricanes and indirect impacts may occur as the result of changing weather patterns, such as prolonged droughts that lead to famine or displacement. The examples are countless, and as we know, the poorest people around the world have the fewest resources to respond to this threat, and unfortunately it is often these people whose rights are not respected or protected within their nation states. Therefore a humanitarian response that is rooted in human rights is really important to address climate change globally.

How can climate risk insurance support a human rights based approach to addressing climate change?

Discussions on human rights and climate change need to go beyond the impacts that climate change has on human rights, and narrow in on how to respond in a way that best respects, protects and fulfills human rights. Climate risk insurance can integrate a human rights based approach into its responses.

To me, this means that whichever kind of insurance program, project or framework is being set up or implemented – the impacts on human rights need to be identified and managed through risk reduction, risk management, and risk prevention… all within a comprehensive risk management framework.
Whether it is a government scheme or a private sector company, we want them to check their human rights obligations in their response measures to climate change. Climate risk insurance, when applied comprehensively, can support this.

It’s also really important that private and public actors work together.

Where do you feel that climate risk insurance approaches risk to be ‘oversold’?

Many challenges remain to reaching the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer from climate change impacts – or will in the future. We need to remember that insurance is not in all cases the right approach. It is important that practitioners look closely at the local context, and respect existing structures in order to not increase inequalities or destroy already existing local risk management mechanisms or safety nets.

For example, many people may be deemed uninsurable to certain climate risks, such as sea-level rise and other slow onset events. In such cases it is imperative that social safety nets and other measures are in place to support them. Insurance cannot be a replacement for a safety net and should not be viewed as such.

And lastly – what do you think are necessary steps to better align the climate risk insurance agenda with a human rights based approach?

As I mentioned before, solutions should to be tailored to a local context because the steps taken may vary from country to country or community to community. That being said, at the policy level we need to continually bring ‘the human face of climate change’ to the forefront of discussions and decisions, to ensure that responses are not only based on capital profit but that they actually respond in a way that alleviates suffering. Human rights have strong motivational and political significance and we should use existing human rights or human-centric principles to guide policy and decision making for climate risk insurance initiatives. An example of a set of such principles are the Pro-Poor Principles for Climate Risk Insurance developed by MCII.