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Climate Change

Published on September 5th, 2019 | by The Beam


Climate Change Deniers Violate Human Rights

September 5th, 2019 by  

By Eco Matser, Senior Program Manager at Hivos

This article was published in The Beam #9 — Subscribe now for more on the topic.

Whoever still thinks climate change is purely an environmental issue, threatening only nature, needs to think again. Climate change is also essentially a human issue because of its devastating effect on human life — and rights. It exacerbates existing inequalities, undermines democracy and threatens development at large. Likewise, by far the greatest burden will fall on those already in poverty, while the rich will be able to buy their way out of rising heat and hunger.

Human rights & climate change

The latest report on climate change and poverty by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights puts it bluntly: “climate change threatens the full enjoyment of a wide range of rights,” — from the right to land, resources and food, to the right to good health. It will spark conflicts and aggravate all current forms of insecurity.

Extractive industry in the Amazon. © Augusto Escribens

Equally important will be the impact on democracy. As the UN report outlines, governments struggle to get support for (the costs of) action to combat climate change and the major socio-economic transformations this requires. “In such a setting, civil and political rights will be highly vulnerable.”

We at Hivos, and a number of organizations and individuals with us, have long warned about the terrible impact climate change can have on development and how it so unfairly affects people living in poverty. For years, we have been calling for an integrated approach to combating climate change that benefits both the environment and development goals. Here’s why:

Exacerbating poverty & inequality

People in poverty are far more vulnerable to climate shocks because they have fewer resources available to adapt or make themselves resilient. Hence, they are driven deeper into poverty. For example, farmers risk losing their income due to drought or other extreme weather, and (fishing) communities living in coastal areas will have to flee rising sea levels.

“We are facing a new era of ‘climate apartheid’ where the wealthy pay to escape rising temperatures, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”

Apart from increasing inequalities between rich and poor, climate change is also causing a growing divide between ethnicities, the sexes, generations and communities (Amnesty International). Areas inhabited largely by migrants and ethnic or racial minorities are more exposed to problems like industrial pollution, overcrowding, food insecurity, landslides, and the impacts of resource extraction; women and girls are disproportionately affected across the board; (indoor) air pollution is particularly harmful to children and the elderly; and the lands of indigenous people are more vulnerable to changing weather patterns.

Reduced productivity

And there is the threat to all our economies. At present, heat stress already causes a loss of productivity. This will rise to 2% of working hours by 2030 even if we manage to maintain the global temperature increase below 1.5°C, estimates Moustapha Kamal Gueye, Coordinator of the ILO’s Green Jobs Program.

The risk of “climate apartheid”

The UN report also cites what is possibly the most disturbing risk of all. A new era of “climate apartheid” where the wealthy pay to escape rising temperatures, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer. “Perversely, the richest who have the greatest capacity to adapt and are responsible for and have benefited from the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, will be the best placed to cope with climate change, while the poorest, who have contributed the least to emissions and have the least capacity to react, will be the most harmed,” the report states.

A just transition

For all these reasons, mitigating climate change is an urgent human rights obligation. But it also provides a huge opportunity to enhance these rights. The transition to a low carbon economy would actually strengthen workers’ and women’s rights and reduce the divide between individuals and between communities.

Providing access to clean and affordable energy resources will increase the (economic) well-being of people currently living in poverty. Replacing firewood with “clean” solar, biogas, or electric cooking equipment not only reduces carbon emissions but provides much healthier conditions for women and children. The same goes for the energy needs of (remote) off-grid rural communities, which can be much easier met by wind and solar energy sources that in turn do not harm the environment. In fact, it is estimated that the renewable energy sector alone will create 18 million new jobs — also for the underprivileged.

A mason constructing a biogas digester in rural Cambodia. © Charlotte Pert

Making the right link

Linkages made by some human rights organizations have referred to specific issues like the “right to food” or the “land rights” of indigenous peoples. But they barely ever make the connection between climate change and human rights writ large. This is we so warmly welcome the UN report on climate change and poverty.

Governments and the private sector have equally failed to integrate the two. In the Paris Agreement, governments committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support climate-vulnerable countries to adapt to irreversible consequences. But missing is the fact that people have the right to be protected against climate change. That there needs to be a just transition, ensuring gender equality, and minority and indigenous rights, while reducing economic and social inequalities. And that the implementation should be transparent and participatory, in accordance with the right to information.

The private sector also has a huge role to play. Fossil fuel companies, in particular, must take responsibility for the negative climate effects they cause and transition to renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuel exploration and use.

Climate change policies must be human rights policies

In conclusion, integrating human rights into climate change policies will simply improve and expand their effectiveness. As the UN report states, “This crisis [climate change] should be a catalyst for states to fulfill long ignored and overlooked economic and social rights, including to social security and access to food, healthcare, shelter, and decent work.”

Eco Matser is senior program manager at Hivos and responsible for the Strategic Partnership Green & Inclusive Energy. He has led global campaigns and international advocacy programs for many years. At Hivos, he focuses on development through decentralized renewable energy.

The article was originally published here.

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The Beam Magazine is a quarterly print publication that takes a modern perspective on the energy transition. From Berlin we report about the people, companies and organizations that shape our sustainable energy future around the world. The team is headed by journalist Anne-Sophie Garrigou and designer Dimitris Gkikas. The Beam works with a network of experts and contributors to cover topics from technology to art, from policy to sustainability, from VCs to cleantech start ups. Our language is energy transition and that's spoken everywhere. The Beam is already being distributed in most countries in Europe, but also in Niger, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Japan, Chile and the United States. And this is just the beginning. So stay tuned for future development and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Medium.

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