Taking a Human Rights Approach to Climate Change: The Poorest Are Paying The Highest Price
Many of the countries that have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions will be the worst affected by global warming, a “climate injustice” that highlights the link to human rights, experts told a gathering in Geneva.
“As we take steps to address climate change, we must not do so at the cost of the most vulnerable and discriminated [against] members of the world’s communities,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said during a 23-24 February seminar.
Pillay and others pointed out that global warming would have a harsh impact on many of the least developed countries and particularly marginalized communities, which suffer from poor resilience and inadequate ability to respond to climate change.
“The worst affected areas include Central, East and West Africa, the Pacific and South Asia. Almost every sub-Saharan African country is vulnerable to a greater degree, as are small islands and low-lying coastal countries,” said Dipi Moni, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh.
“Historically responsible countries must not turn a blind eye to the denial of human rights of millions affected in vulnerable countries,” Moni said.
“A principal measure of human rights obligations can be through assessing the harm caused to others. There are sufficient reasons to affirm that emission reduction and compensatory financing constitute human rights obligations.”
“Customary international law says it is the obligation of every state not to allow itself knowingly to be used for acts contrary to the rights of other states,” she told participants, adding that failure by responsible countries to take remedial action would amount to a violation of human rights.
Pillay warned that global warming would exacerbate “so-called natural disasters”, which killed approximately 296,000 people in 2010 alone, mainly in the developing world.
“Slowly and incrementally, land will become too dry to till, crops will die, rising sea levels will flood coastal dwellings and spoil freshwater, species will disappear and livelihoods will vanish. Mass migration and conflicts will result and then only gradually will these awful consequences touch upon the lifestyles and activities of those who are most responsible for global warming.”
The impact of climate change would be most acutely felt by those whose rights protections were already precarious, including the poor, migrants, the disabled, indigenous people and women.