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Why climate change is a threat to human rights - Mary Robinson


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Climate change is unfair. While rich countries can fight against rising oceans and dying farm fields, poor people around the world are already having their lives upended — and their human rights threatened — by killer storms, starvation and the loss of their own lands. Mary Robinson asks us to join the movement for worldwide climate justice.

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Climate Change and Basic Human Rights

Climate change directly threatens fundamental human rights such as safe water, food, health, and shelter access. The impact of climate change is not just environmental but deeply humanitarian. For instance, in countries like Bangladesh, rising sea levels and increased flooding threaten the livelihoods and homes of millions. This displacement affects their right to shelter and has broader implications for their rights to health, work, and security. The frequent and intense natural disasters, a consequence of climate change, disrupt access to clean water and food, leading to widespread malnutrition and waterborne diseases, further infringing on the basic human rights of vulnerable populations.

Climate Change and Social Inequities

The effects of climate change exacerbate existing social and economic inequities, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable communities. For example, the indigenous communities in the Arctic are witnessing drastic environmental changes due to rapidly melting ice and permafrost. This profoundly affects their traditional way of life, endangering their cultural heritage and impacting their rights to practice their culture and live in their ancestral lands. These communities, which have contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions, find their fundamental human rights threatened by the consequences of climate change primarily caused by developed nations.

Climate Change and Forced Migration

One of climate change's most alarming human rights issues is forced migration. People are increasingly being displaced due to climate-related disasters like droughts, floods, and hurricanes. For example, the island nation of Kiribati is facing an existential threat from rising sea levels. The government has even purchased land in Fiji to potentially relocate its population, underscoring the severity of the threat to its citizens' right to live in their own country. This situation highlights a critical aspect of climate change as a human rights issue: the right to a home and a nation, which is at risk for entire populations due to the environmental crisis.

Climate Action: A Path to Upholding Human Rights

Embracing the fight against climate change is more than an environmental effort; it's a powerful opportunity to reinforce and secure human rights globally. When we talk about transitioning to renewable energy sources, implementing sustainable agricultural practices, or investing in green infrastructure, we're not just mitigating the environmental impact but directly contributing to protecting fundamental human rights. Take the shift to renewable energy, for instance: it promises cleaner air, reduces respiratory problems, and improves public health, especially in low-income communities disproportionately affected by pollution. Sustainable agriculture can ensure food security and protect the livelihoods of rural populations. By tackling climate change head-on, we're preserving the planet for future generations and actively building a world where the rights to health, clean water, nutritious food, and secure living conditions are more attainable for everyone. This synergy between environmental sustainability and human rights offers a blueprint for a more equitable and just world.

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