Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur to the UN, published a report yesterday highlighting the effects and impact of climate change on human rights, especially concerning people living or near poverty.
Climate change will have devastating consequences for people in poverty.
Hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease, and death.
Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and pull vast numbers into poverty.
States are giving only marginal attention to human rights in the conversation on climate change.
Climate change represents an emergency without precedent and requires bold and creative thinking from the human rights community, and a radically more robust, detailed, and coordinated approach.
Climate change and human rights
According to the report, the last five years have been the hottest ever recorded. Global carbon dioxide levels began to rise after levelling off in 2017. Icecaps are melting, there is trash in the ocean suffocating sea life, and we are seeing wildfires, floods and hurricanes. There is so much data that validates that the Earth is beginning to get hot, and Human lifestyle, consumption and production is obviously the main culprit. Noble Laureates, scholars, scientists, even Pope Francis have declared a global Climate Emergency. On the other hand, prominent and influential politicians and policy makers are denying it, causing irreversible damage.
Yes, the poor always lose. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are left to fend for themselves. That's true at an individual level as well as a geography/country level. Low lying countries such as Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Haiti, South Sudan and many more are facing a climate crisis like no other, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. And yes, there is a term for it. These people are Climate Refugees. They are displaced only because the place that they have been living for years is no longer habitable. If countries think they have a problem with migration today, it's only going to get worse as millions of people begin long treks to more hospitable places.
An Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) study argues that the Syrian war was the result of consecutive droughts in that region, causing 1.5 million people to migrate to it's cities, with no access to food, water, or money.
According to Philip Alston's report, since 2000, people in poor countries have died from disasters at rates seven times higher than in wealthy countries- They will die from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, flooding, land slides, and hunger.
The perversity of it all is that people who cause the most greenhouse gases, AKA well-to-do people, will have all the facilities to combat displacement and climate change, while poor people, who have the least carbon footprint, will be the ones to suffer.
What can we do?
Reports are being prepared, policies are being made, but what is being implemented? Not much. The majority of the people don't deny climate change, but still tend to ignore it. The time to act is NOW. It's already too late. We need meaningful action, from every individual on this planet. What can we do?
Work with your local government to create policy change. Think recycling programs, plastic bag ban, plastic straw alternatives, Styrofoam ban, public transportation, incentives for selling and buying local.
Work with your family. Practice refusing, reusing, recycling, and repairing. Use less water, don't waste food, plant bee-friendly gardens, volunteer with local organizations, buy from ethical companies, reduce your carbon footprint.
Keep yourself informed. Have meaningful conversations with others. Don't wait. Take action. Don't give up.
Photo: @ShashankSahay Unsplash