We live in a fortunate time with an unfortunate truth of Climate Change. It is associated with global warming, atmosphere, biodiversity and similar technical parameters. It has been agreed upon that climate change has disastrous environmental effects but few dwell into its adverse social, financial and geopolitical effects which cannot be neglected. It is very rare that we think of its impact from the humanitarian lens.
Human rights are a genuine universal concern since they seem to exist in all parts of the world in different circumstances bearing different effects (Rathgeber, 2010). There has been a lot of contention over the term with most narratives being agreed upon by respective national governments and participation of non-state actors. The major stakeholders consist of the vulnerable groups, who, mostly, face a lack of access to public opinion, speech and opportunities. Negative impacts of climate change are disproportionally borne by poor and vulnerable communities including women and children. Along with them, people residing in delicate ecosystems, exposed zones such as in low lying areas or people living next to polluting factories and those whose way of life is tied to nature are usually affected by climate change.
Climatic phenomena such as sea level rise, temperature increase, extreme weather events including storms, floods, droughts and cyclones impact human populations and livelihood, causing displacements, spread of diseases, water shortage, loss of land, threats for food security, death of livestock, refugee crisis, conflicts in aid and destruction of infrastructure further need instant actions. Climate change can thus be considered as one of the greatest threats that determine the permanency of life on earth as it affects every form of life and fundamental rights of humans directly or indirectly. Human rights can act as strong tool to accelerate the policy negotiations and lead to civil society uprisings (Carvalho, 2015).
Environmental impacts like ill effects on wildlife, natural resources and ecology contribute negatively to social factors such as access to clean water, basic livelihood, adequate food, social infrastructure and human rights. There have been various actions taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerability to increase resilience to effects of climate change. Some of the social measures include mitigation and adaptation also relating to human rights (UNEP, 2015).
Keeping in mind the above, we can say that the anthropogenic wrong done to climate affects a wide range of human rights: the right to life, the right to food, the right to work, the right to health, the right to shelter and housing, the right to development, the right to access clean water, the right to breath fresh air, the right to security, the right to a healthy environment, right to sleep, right to freedom of speech, the right to land, the right to education, as well as other cultural and indigenous people’s rights (IPCC, 2014). For instance, the right to food is affected when climate change impacts agricultural activities, especially when droughts hit certain areas where agriculture is the main source of income. Moreover, changing precipitation patterns and the melting of glaciers affect access to water, which in turn can affect the ability to irrigate lands and secure access to food which leads to food insecurity.
Climate change also affects human shelter through various natural disasters such as floods, landslides, droughts and storms in different parts of the world. In case of natural disasters, we have witnessed houses being damaged which lead to population displacements and even forces people to become refugees in other countries. By affecting access to resources, the impact on livelihoods, and forced displacements, climate change can eventually trigger conflicts and threaten human security around the world. In failing to tackle climate change with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people. Excessive greenhouse gas emissions are, with scientific certainty, leading to increasing temperatures, sea level rise, and seasonal unpredictability. These impacts are undermining millions of people’s rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter and culture. Such human rights violations could never truly be remedied in courts of law (Oxfam International, 2014). Human rights principles must be at the core of international policy making now in order to stop this irreversible damage to humanity.
Kanika Joshi is a Project Officer for Solutions at SDSN Youth. All opinions expressed on the blog are the opinion of the authors and not of SDSN Youth. To get in touch with Kanika, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Carvalho, S. (2015, December 1). Amnesty International . Retrieved from www.amnesty.org: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2015/12/climate-change-human-rights/
IPCC. (2014). Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report. Denmark : Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Oxfam International. (2014). Climate Wrongs and Human Rights. Oxfam , p. 4.
Rathgeber, T. (2010). Climate Change Violates Human Rights . Heinrich-Böll-Foundation (pp. 1-9). Moscow : Heinrich-Böll-Foundation.
UNEP. (2015). Climate Change and Human Rights . United Nations Environment Programme (pp. 1-56). Nairobi: Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.