A new study recognizing the link between climate change and human rights has been published to coincide with Human Rights Day.
Published by the United Nations Environment Programme on Thursday — global Human Rights Day — in Paris at the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations, the new report, Climate Change and Human Rights, aims to provide “a comprehensive study” of the connection points between climate change and human rights law. Specifically, the report concludes that “anthropogenic climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and human rights of our time.”
“Climate change is already having direct impact on humans and settlements through the degradation of ecosystems and resources, upon which so many depend for survival and livelihoods,” said Achim Steiner , United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director. “We will see its impacts continue to affect the human rights of millions of people as conditions worsen.
“This new research sheds light on the link between climate change and human rights and can serve as a reference point for climate action beyond the stepping stone of the Paris agreement.”
Its publication also comes on the same day as the Philippines Commission on Human Rights has launched its own investigation into whether fossil fuel companies are to be held responsible for climate change.
“This investigation is not just about how fossil fuel companies do business, but that they do business at all in the future,” added Zelda Soriano, legal and political advisor at Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It’s time we held those to account who are most responsible for the devastating effects of climate change.”
The new UN-published report starts out by acknowledging the inherent link between “a clean, healthy, and functional environment” and the enjoyment of human rights, and the subsequent impact anthropogenic climate change has on those same rights. “Anthropogenic climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and human societies the world has ever experienced,” the authors note, going on to reference the results of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which described “how observed and predicted changes in climate will adversely affect billions of people and the ecosystems, natural resources, and physical infrastructure upon which they depend.”
Given the current negotiations in Paris — and the rumors of stalling among the negotiating parties — this report comes at a crucial time.
“This report arrives at a critical moment, as the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Paris to begin a new chapter in our generational effort to defeat climate change,” said John H. Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. “The report provides an indispensable basis for climate policy going forward, helping us see in detail how climate change threatens our ability to enjoy our human rights, and also how the exercise of human rights can inform and guide our climate policies.”
The report reaches three key findings and has three key recommendations.
- The impacts of climate change on freshwater resources, ecosystems, and human settlements are already undermining access to clean water, food, shelter, and other basic human needs; interfering with livelihoods; and displacing people from their homes. Even if we remain within the international goal of 2° C of global warming, these impacts will expand dramatically in the coming decades.
- These impacts constitute a serious interference with the exercise of fundamental human rights, such as the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and an adequate standard of living.
- Mitigation, adaptation, and geoengineering measures can also adversely affect the exercise of human rights. For example, there are documented instances of hydroelectric and biofuel projects that have resulted in human rights violations. There is also a high risk of human rights violations resulting from the implementation of resettlement programs for those who are displaced or at risk of displacement due to climate change, and a corresponding need to ensure that such programs are undertaken with adequate input and consent from those who are relocated.
- The inclusion in the Paris agreement of a schedule for assessing and revisiting country commitments with the aim of increasing, over time, the ambition of the climate targets set by countries.
- A reference in the Paris Agreement to the effects of climate change on the exercise of human rights and the need to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights in all climate-related activities.
- Ensuring implementation of social safeguards in various climate funds to take into account human rights considerations.
“Climate change is the result of choices made by human beings and has devastating impacts on a wide range of internationally guaranteed human rights-the rights to food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and health-for millions of people,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Human rights law imposes affirmative legal obligations on all states to protect human rights from climate harms, particularly the rights of persons in vulnerable situations, and to ensure accountability, including redress, where harms are suffered. We are living in an age of widespread breach of these obligations.”
Image Credits: Climate Change and Human Rights (PDF)