UN: Climate change is now among the greatest threats to human rights

Mr Benjamin Schachter, the Associate Human Rights Officer at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR). PHOTO/UN

By SHARON TSHIPA

Climate change is now among the greatest threats to human rights and freedoms, Mr Benjamin Schachter, the Associate Human Rights Officer at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) has said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN climate change conference dubbed COP24 that took place in Katowice, Poland, Mr Schachter said entire nations, ecosystems, people, and ways of life risk extinction if the devastating impacts of climate change are not checked.

“Climate change is man-made. It is a result of policy choices that breach the affirmative obligations of states to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. And these policy choices are harming millions of people now,” he said.

According to a comprehensive assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in October, the past decade has seen an astonishing run of record-breaking storms, forest fires, droughts, coral bleaching, heat waves, and floods around the world as a result of global warming.

Human rights groups that attended COP24 expressed concerns that little attention is paid to the adverse effects climate change has on human rights.

In December, last year, CliMates International staged a protest demonstration at COP24 to demand the inclusion of human rights in the climate change Rulebook.

Three years ago, the Paris Agreement marked a historic recognition by countries of the necessity to respect and protect human rights in all climate action.

The Paris Agreement, in its preamble acknowledges human rights, but the Rulebook which Ministers from across the globe are now working on is silent when it comes to human rights, protesters complained.

Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples called on countries to comply with the human rights obligations they have signed, stressing the need to put human rights at the centre of the solutions to climate change.

“Indigenous people are in the front lines of the adverse impacts of climate change, as they are living in very fragile ecosystems, whether they are living in the mountains or low lying mountains. The impacts of climate change are very much felt, affecting their rights to life, right to water,” she said.

In spite of this, she said, they still struggle to play a significant role in climate mitigation.

Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. PHOTO/UN

“While they are vulnerable, they are still the ones trying their best to sustain the ecosystems. It will very well be unfortunate if the need to protect and respect fundamental rights is not reiterated in the decisions here in Katowice. This will further harm the most vulnerable sections of society,” she emphasised.

Various COP24 participants called on governments to reaffirm their commitment to upholding their human rights obligations by ensuring that COP24 endorses the need for urgent enhanced action.

Sharing his sentiments, Mr John Licht, ambassador of Vanuatu said COP24 needs to deliver. He said additional funding is also needed in order for all players to deliver.

“Human rights are not negotiable,” he said, while Ezio Costa, Board Member of the Climate Justice Fund said market solutions are not enough to tackle climate change, as countries will continue abuses of power.

Financial solutions set up, he said should look at the lives of indigenous people.

 

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