How climate change affects our human rights

“Climate change is a human rights issue not only because its devastating impacts affect the enjoyment of human rights, but also because it is a man-made phenomenon which can be mitigated by governments.”

Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International


Our planet’s climate has always fluctuated over time. But, our current rate of warming is occurring much more rapidly than ever before; and it’s the overwhelming scientific consensus that our rapidly warming world is manmade. By burning fossil fuels, over-farming our lands and demanding more livestock to feed us – our greenhouse gases are the highest they’ve been in over 800,000 years.

This change in our climate will only magnify the existing inequalities that humanity currently faces; with severe droughts occurring more frequently, and sea level rises forcing people to flee their homes, we’ll see rafts of climate refugees over the coming decades. Not to mention it exacerbating violent conflict in already war-torn countries; and deadly heatwaves and wildfires across the globe.

The inaction of governments around the world, means that our climate crisis is quickly becoming one of the biggest human rights violations in history.


How climate change affects different classes and ethnicities…

In North America it’s the poorer communities of colour which are suffering the most, due to their neighbourhood’s proximity to power plants and refineries. Breathing in the toxic fumes, means that African Americans are three times more likely to die from airborne pollution than any other in the US.

How climate change affects gender…

As women and girls are more likely to be marginalised and disadvantaged in many countries across the world – it is women who will suffer the most from climate change.

How climate change affects generations…

Displaced children will be the worst affected by climate change, as their developmental needs will not be able to be met with regards to safe water, sanitation, food and housing.

How climate change affects communities…

Indigenous communities will be hit hard by climate change, as their livelihoods most often depend on the fragile ecosystems which have supported them for centuries.

The rights to life, food, water and heath (amongst other rights) are enshrined in international human rights law and are the basis for life to thrive. Our escalating climate crisis affects each of these rights individually.


How climate change impedes our right to life

Every human being has the inherent right to life, and climate change will impede our right to life in several ways. Many people globally are suffering from death and injury due to increased floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and fires. There is also increasing hunger and malnutrition which ensues from the lack of nutritional soil; heavy rains which destroy crops; and droughts which make our land arid and untenable.

How climate change impedes our right to food

Leading on from the above, the right to food is adversely affected by climate change as flooding and droughts increasingly threaten our arable lands. Place this alongside our growing global population and we start to see food shortages the world over. The UN’s Development Programme has estimated that an additional 600 million people will face malnutrition caused by climate change – this will be particularly devastating in sub-Saharan Africa.

How climate change impedes our right to water

If the climate crisis intensifies, water shortages will become more commonplace in cities around the world. We’ve already witnessed these effects with the Cape Town water crisis of 2017-18, which was the result of decreased dam water levels for several years beforehand.

How climate change impedes our right to health

We all have a right to the highest standard of attainable mental and physical health. As our world warms, the disparities between the rich and poor will grow as access to adequate healthcare becomes a luxury that some poorer communities simply can’t afford. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), climate change has claimed the lives of over 150,000 people per annum since 1970. If our global temperature increases by just 1°C on preindustrial levels, the WHO predicts that these numbers could double.

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