Climate change is a human rights issue precisely because of the impact it’s having on people. The A new report by the UN special rapporteur warns that the right to life, the rule of law and democracy will be undermined by an approaching climate crisis where the wealthy will be better able to adapt to a rapidly heating planet.
The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Aston, has warned that “climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in poverty reduction.”
Alston predicted that up to 140 million people could be made homeless by climate change by 2050 and many more hundreds of millions could lack enough clean water, food and suffer a break down in democracy and the rule of law.
Developing countries will bear the brunt of the crisis, even though the poorest half of the world’s population are responsible for just 10% of the carbon dioxide emissions.
“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. Yet democracy and the rule of law, as well as a wide range of civil and political rights are every bit at risk,” the report said.
It predicted a growing risk of community discontent, growing inequality and an increase in nationalism, xenophobia, and racism.
But the wealthy of the world will be able to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis by migrating to areas of the world that are the least affected by global heating. Alston referred to the example of Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread damage in New York in 2012.
“When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York in 2012, stranding low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers without access to power and healthcare, the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator,” he said.
Previous Warnings Ineffective and Unheeded
Alston also criticised those working in the field of human rights, including the UN and his own previous work for not giving the climate crisis enough gravity. He said that there must be “deep social and economic transformation, which is almost all observers agree is urgent if climate catastrophe is to be averted.”
The report lamented previous climate treaties, which have been completely ineffective. Even of the 2015 Paris accord is adhered to, which is highly unlikely, the world would still be on course for catastrophic warming of 3C.
US President Donald Trump was singled out by Alston as pursuing reckless and irresponsible policies on climate change and of being a climate science denier.
“He as placed former lobbyists in oversight roles, adopted industry talking points, presided over an aggressive rollback of environmental regulations and is actively silencing and obfuscating climate science,” he said.
Amnesty International in comments to the Guardian also said that climate change is a human rights issue.
primary obligation to protect people from human rights harms lies with states. A state that fails to take any feasible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is violating their human rights obligations,” said Ashfaq Khan from Amnesty.