Linking Human Rights and Climate Change

by Sarah Carter / Sep 21, 2021 /
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Whether you think you are or not, everyone is affected by climate change. The climate crisis urgently needs individual and international attention.Human beings are the primary cause of the situation that we are currently in, and all humans are suffering the consequences of our collective actions.

Linking Human Rights and Climate Change

By taking a human rights-based approach to climate change, we can begin to understand the effects that it is having on individuals’ everyday lives. Currently, the climate crisis is irreversibly obstructing our fight for human rights protection—and to protect our place on this earth, we must listen, educate ourselves, and speak up.

Linking Human Rights and Climate Change

Why does everyone need to take action?

Collectively, our actions are needed not only to stop the devastating effects of climate change, but to protect our ability to live as human beings on this earth. Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation that fights for climate justice, has highlighted climate change as “the greatest human rights challenge of the 21st century.” (i) This is because it is having direct and indirect effects on the rights that are guaranteed to us by the international human rights framework.

Linking Human Rights and Climate Change: There is no planet B

To understand why climate change is a human rights issue, we must look to the declarations and treaties that provide the framework for human rights. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations Charter, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), and the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development (UNDRD). The primary basis of each of these is to provide universal (meaning everyone alive) human rights. Each of these set the foundation for international human rights law by giving responsibility to every state—and the international community as a whole—to ensure that human rights abuses are prevented and stopped.

Morally, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that every human being enjoys the same rights and the same quality of life. However, there are a number of factors that allow huge inequalities to form in peoples’ ability to access their human rights. 

Climate change is currently the one of the biggest culprits for creating disproportionate abuses of human rights. 

People all over the world are facing challenges with the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to food, and the right to water, sanitation, and health. These challenges highlight how human rights and climate change are deeply interrelated, and why this means that we have a responsibility to care and act on the climate crisis. 

Here are just three of the human rights that climate change is violating:

The Right to Life (Article 3 of the UDHR)

The right to life is considered the greatest human right. (ii) Without it, we have no other rights. From wildfires to floods, climate change poses many increasing risks to human life.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that between 2030 and 2050, 250,000 peoples’ right to life will be cut short because of climate change, via diarrhoea, malnutrition, heat stress, and malaria. (iii) The increase in these causes of death is due to the effects of severe weather that is damaging living conditions and making environments unsafe to live in. These conditions can become rife with certain deadly diseases that spread quickly. Coupled with a lack of healthcare, poverty-stricken areas are witnessing men, women, and children die prematurely, as they suffer the brunt of climate change. However, the damaging effects of climate change on the right to life can be seen everywhere in the world.

As the greatest human right, the right to life is absolute in that there is no reason why this right should not be guaranteed to every human being. The increase in deaths because of climate change is preventable—and to protect and save lives, we must protect and save the planet that each of us calls home. We would not willingly set fire or flood our houses, so why are we continuing actions that are leading to the destruction of our planet—without which we would have no home?

unsafe living conditions. From Linking Human Rights and Climate Change
Wildfires. From Linking Human Rights and Climate Change
Flooding. From Linking Human Rights and Climate Change

The Right to Food (Article 11 of the ICESC)

Violations or abuses of the right to food is a serious human rights—and global—concern. Even if you have never faced issues in accessing food or being able to afford food, with the worsening effects of climate change, this is not guaranteed in the near future.

Almost every food industry is increasingly facing the effects of climate change, and in order to protect our right to food, we must protect the very thing that produces our sources of food. Amnesty International has estimated that if we don’t act now, there could be a 20% increase in global hunger by 2050. (iv)

Graphic of the effects of climate change on the food industry

Currently 1 in 9 people are experiencing undernourishment and hunger. (v) Despite this, Tayana Simons, a Viva campaigner whose work aims to reveal the truth about animal farming, notes that “we feed a third of our cereal harvest to farmed animals.” (vi) This deprives many of the world’s poorest people of their right to food. If we eat less meat, more of our harvest produce could go straight towards feeding human beings, rather than the livestock that will eventually become food. The increase in livestock production and animal farming that we are currently witnessing due to rising populations is also having detrimental effects to the environment. For example, methane, a product of animal farming, is a main contributor to global warming. (vii) The more methane that is produced, the faster the world heats up. It is clear: increased meat production and animal farming is damaging our planet, and the universality of the right to food.

What can we do? This section is not here to pressure anyone into veganism or vegetarianism, but rather to highlight the effects that eating meat is having on our planet and on human rights. It is a call for you to be more cautious of the amount of meat that you eat. Perhaps you could cut down by only eating meat 3 times a week, and by buying meat that is sustainably sourced.

The Right to Water, Sanitation and Health (Article 12 of the ICESC)

One of the biggest concerns of our generation is to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5C. (viii) Why? If temperatures increase, even by half a degree, Amnesty International has estimated that one billion people will face severe violations of their right to water. (ix) 

unclean water pouring from a bathroom faucet. From Linking Human Rights to Climate Change

The most recent reports show that our planet is set to reach 2.7C. by 2030, well above what the livelihood of human beings can afford. (x) Increasing temperatures are causing droughts in the driest areas, and floods in the wettest areas. These extreme weather conditions put the lives of many at risk. WHO has stated that 40% of the world’s population is experiencing a lack of water. (xi) This is almost half of the human beings on our planet—and this number is set to increase. Without clean water—or any water at all—our ability to live as human beings is not possible.

Why we need more people to care?

It is clear that human rights and climate change are interrelated. I hope that with this understanding, people will think twice about their own actions, and how they can help work toward battling climate change. Whether it is using your power to speak up and be heard, eating less meat, or recycling, any change will help protect our planet…and you, your families’, and friends’ human rights.
 
Things everyone can do to help save our planet. From Linking Human Rights to Climate Change

Overall, one of the biggest problems with addressing the climate crisis is getting people to care and realise their own impact. I understand that many people think of it as a distant problem that does not affect them or their loved ones.

However, the more we learn and educate ourselves about climate change, the more we realise that it is affecting the things that matter most to each and every one of us.

Climate change is not only going to affect future generations; it is already affecting our current generation. Act now and do your bit to stop the climate crisis and help prevent your human rights being violated.

 

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Linking Human Rights to Climate Change

 

Sarah Carter is the Human Rights and Climate Change Editor at Wandering Educators. She is currently studying a Master’s in Human Rights and Diplomacy at the University of Stirling. She is motivated by a desire to make a change in this world. 

Endnotes:

i  ‘COP21: Understanding Human Rights and Climate Change’ (OHCHR 2015) < https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/ClimateChange/COP21.pdf> accessed 07 September 2021

ii  David Moeckli et al (eds), International Human Rights Law (3rd edn, OUP 2018)

iii   ‘Climate change and health’ (WHO 2018) < https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health > accessed 10 September 2021

iv  ‘What has climate crisis got to do with human rights?’ (Amnesty International 2020)< https://www.amnesty.org.uk/what-has-climate-crisis-got-do-human-rights > accessed 07 September 2021

v  World Hunger Facts’ (Action Against Hunger 2020) < https://www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk/why-hunger/world-hunger-facts#:~:.... > accessed 10 September 2021

vi  ‘Veganism is a human rights issue’ (Viva 2019) < https://viva.org.uk/blog/veganism-is-a-human-rights-issue-heres-why/ > accessed 10 September 2021

vii  Environmental Reasons to be vegan’ (Vegan Friendly) < https://www.veganfriendly.org.uk/articles/environmental-reasons-to-be-ve... > accessed 10 September 2021

viii  Jonathon Watts ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN’ The Guardian (08 October 2018)

ix  ‘What has climate crisis got to do with human rights?’ (Amnesty International 2020)< https://www.amnesty.org.uk/what-has-climate-crisis-got-do-human-rights > accessed 07 September 2021

x  Rachel Ramirez ‘The planet is on a ‘catastrophic’ global warming path, UN report shows’ CNN (17 September 2021) 

xi ‘Drought’ (WHO 2021) < https://www.who.int/health-topics/drought#tab=tab_1 > accessed 10 September 2021