Climate Change and its Impact on Human Rights- Gurbani Walia


Climate change is the greatest existential threat our civilization faces today. The pace at which our governments are responding to it are certainly not enough. The COP24 in 2018 came up with a report confirming that we only have a little over a decade to stop irreversible environmental degradation, two years have passed and if you look around yourself you will realize that not much has changed in our approach to tackle climate change. Climate change is no more something that will happen in the future, it is already happening during our lifetime and its ill effects are very much visible.

Climate change has already caused draught, floods, eco-system degradation, food shortage and other such life threatening problems in various geographical locations[1]. It is an urgent global problem and all the nations need to work collectively to resolve it. The adverse effects of the climate change are contemporaneous, global and are bound to increase with time if we do not alter the way our society functions therefore, climate change needs a global rights based response. One effect of climate change affects a bundle of human rights altogether.

Climate change is bound to cause humanitarian crisis in the near future as the two are very closely related. Universal Declaration of Human Rights safeguards every individual, group and community against exploitation of their fundamental freedoms and entitlements and the Preamble of the Paris Agreement to UNFCCC reads that all states “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights.” Therefore it is the duty of the States to fulfill their international obligations and take the impact of climate change on human rights more seriously than ever. Although, climate Change threatens the rights and well being of people all across the world the bleak impacts of it are disproportionately borne by people and communities at the bottom of the social pyramid due to gender, ethnicity, disability, poverty, geography, etc.[2]these people are also the ones who have contributed the least to environmental degradation.

The governments all around the globe need to realize that they are bound to protect the human rights of its people and to do that, irrespective of their indifference to environmental degradation, they need to take Climate Change seriously because the two are very closely related. Right to self-determination, right to life, right to food, right to water and sanitation, right to health, right to development; to name a few are protected by either the UN Charter, ICESCR, ICCPR, CEDAW and/ or UDHR. Along with these rights there are other rights too that will be adversely effected like the right to education, rights of the future generation, the rights of those most affected by climate change, right to meaningful and informed participation, etc.

Along with the States the multi national businesses also need to recognize their vital role in this situation and need to acknowledge that businesses have human rights responsibilities too.[3]The human rights based approach toward climate change also requires accountability and transparency; mitigation plans should be made available publicly and should be transparent about how these plans are developed and financed.

Three major attributes for a human rights approach as highlighted by the COP21[4]are that all the policies and programmes must have the main objective of promoting and fulfilling human rights; that the entitlements of the rights-holders must be acknowledged as well as the responsibilities of the duty bearers to strengthen the claims of the rights-holders and that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and only such treaties should be the guiding forces behind all the policies.

It is not just enough to ensure that climate actions are in consonance with principles of human rights. A right based approach demands for the States to take affirmative actions to protect, respect and promote human rights of all the people and the failure of the states to protect people against foreseeable human rights injury by climate change constitutes as breach of its international obligations. State commitments therefore require international cooperation and only by empowering its people to participate in policy formulation and integrating climate action and policies with human rights can the goal of sustainability be achieved. The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to take these discussions from a theoretical stage to a practical one, which leads to immediate and urgent right based action to mitigate climate change. International cooperation, non-discrimination, equity, equality and accountability are critical to fight climate change and reflect our commitment towards human rights. The rights of the marginalized should no longer be sidelined and there should be a fair distribution of the benefits of development.

[1]Oxfam, Entering Unchartered Waters: El Nino and the Threat to Food Security (2015) [2]IPCC Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities, Summary for Policymakers, (WMO and UNEP) [3]The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights [4]United Nations Climate Change Conference, Paris (2015)

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