By Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, March 9, 2012
A 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary, Sun Come Up, features the plight of the world’s first climate change refugees. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands in Southeast Asia began evacuating to the bigger island of Bouganville in early 2009, because of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Coastal erosions and inundations have wiped out vegetable and fruit gardens and polluted fresh waters.
The Carteret Islands will be submerged by 2015, experts say. Many other small islands States are also threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change.
The climate crisis is perhaps the most far-reaching and detrimental global crisis facing our world. Effects of climate change include an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts, and increasing water shortages. It threatens the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, such as the right to water and food, the right to health and adequate housing, the right to self-determination and the right to life itself.
“Thinking about climate change from a human rights perspective offers us an opportunity to reappraise the most pressing needs of a highly inequitable global society,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay at a two-day expert meeting on climate change and human rights.
“Mitigating climate change while furthering development poses the greatest challenges where resources or, the political will to fulfil basic human rights are lacking.”
Developing countries and marginalized communities, in particular, given their limited capacities, suffer from poor resilience and inadequate response to climate change. As a consequence, climate change is set to hit the poorest countries and communities the hardest.
“Many of the least developed countries and small island States, which have contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions, will be worst affected by global warming,” Pillay said.
For Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, “climate change impacts have no boundaries. They do not need visas or travel documents. One country’s pollution devastates and can destroy a nation thousands of miles away.”
In the Pacific island nations, life is getting more difficult and more expensive and in the long run evacuation may be inevitable, said Naidoo.
“The future of their inhabitants, statehood and ancient cultures is uncertain,” he pointed out. Naidoo stressed that countries that contribute the most to climate change have a moral obligation to help poor nations adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Governments must reduce emissions by at least 80 per cent, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body for the assessment of climate change.
“Failing to do so is practically admitting that our political leaders are sleep walking us into a crisis of epic proportion, putting the future and lives of our children and grandchildren in jeopardy and great danger,” Naidoo said. “States have the human rights obligations to protect their citizens and to cooperate to solve the climate change crisis.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is the most important issue facing the planet,” and that the status-quo in our approach cannot continue,” said Mary Robinson, Former High Commissioner for Human Rights and Founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice.
Robinson said that “what is really needed is a linkage between human rights and climate change environmental communities.” She added that Rio-20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled on 20-22 June 2012 in Brazil, will offer “a real opportunity to develop that linkage.”
The UN Human Rights Council expert meeting addressed the adverse impacts on climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights and examined international cooperation and respect for human rights in all climate change-related situations and ways to forge stronger cooperation between human rights and climate change communities.
The two days meeting was held on 23-24 February 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. A Summary Report of the meeting will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2012.