The Connection Between Climate Change & Human Rights


The question is: What is the connection between climate change and human rights? and that’s a very good question because up until recently know one was even asking the question, let alone thinking about the answer. People tended to think about climate change as an environmental matter that affected polar bears and other biodiversity issues, but nobody was thinking about how it actually affected people. First of all, the most fundamental right is the right to life. And you know what, climate change will affect the right to life and it’s already beginning to in many ways. The right to food security, the right to water, the right to health, the right to live in your own country: climate change is going to actually threaten people’s lives in both direct and indirect ways. We ought to be taking action to try and stop it from occurring, so that’s mitigating emissions, or trying to rein in emissions, so that’s mitigation. But more recently it’s been recognized that the nations of the world have not acted with the speed and with the urgency that they should have, and so some harm will actually occur even if we start reining in emissions now. So what we have to do in regard to that is to try and adapt to it. And measures need to be taken to plan to deal with adaptation. For example, in some low-lying areas, build higher dikes, or have better weather forecasting so people can escape low-lying areas. The third type of issue that climate change engenders is things that can’t be prevented by either mitigation or by adaptation. And that’s loss and damage that can’t otherwise be prevented. Examples of that are catastrophic, sudden events, like a typhoon where thousands of homes might be wiped out, and then there’s what we call slow-onset events: loss and damage that will occur through rising sea levels that happen over a slow period of time, or gradual change in the weather because the earth is heating up. Places becoming subject to a desert that were fertile ground in the past and won’t come back. So we have to deal with both the catastrophic loss and damage situation as well as the slow-onset event type of loss and damage, and there may be different approaches that are required for each of those. Climate change is going to have the greatest impact on vulnerable communities and vulnerable populations, people who are probably poor, who live in low-lying areas, who had nothing essentially to do with creating climate change, but climate change is going to most drastically affect them first.

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