Unless states take prompt, adequate action to address its effects, climate change could become a major threat to the realization of human rights, with those already living in poverty feeling the effects sooner and more acutely.
As global attention turns to the upcoming round of climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December, it is more essential than ever to bring human rights to the table.
Observed and projected changes attributable to climate change include the contraction of snow-covered areas; shrinking of sea ice and melting of polar ice caps; rise of sea levels; increased frequency of hot extremes and heat waves; increase in areas affected by drought; and increased intensity of tropical cyclones.
There is an intrinsic link between such environmental impacts and the ability to realize a range of human rights. State failure to act effectively to curb climate change could result in widespread violations of the right to life, right to health, right to water, right to food, and the right to housing. Acute water shortages and decreased crop yields in the poorer region of the world, to take just two examples, would undermine the rights of millions of people.
State responses to the threat of climate change must ensure that human rights are protected. Strategies for adaptation (preparing for the foreseeable adverse effects of climate change) and mitigation (slowing climate change and reducing its harmful effects) must be firmly rooted in a human rights analysis of the legal obligations of states. Amnesty International believes that the following rights and principles must be an integral part of efforts to address climate change:
- Non-discrimination: The effects of climate change will be felt disproportionately by those who are also vulnerable to human rights abuses because of their poverty, age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability or other status. Climate change policies must not discriminate and must ensure protection against discrimination, particularly of the most vulnerable groups.
- Freedom of information: Access to information is critical to addressing climate change. States must promote and facilitate the flow of information on climate change and measures taken to address it. States have a duty to disseminate information about environmental risks.
- Right to active participation: States must conduct adequate and meaningful consultation with affected people, involving them in decision-making on the policies that would shape their lives. States must ensure participation of civil society, including representative of vulnerable groups, in the design of national adaptation and mitigation strategies
- Rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly: The right to peacefully protest against government action or inaction in relation to climate change is a crucial safeguard that must be respected and protected. Individuals must enjoy the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, and must not be persecuted or otherwise harassed for exercising these human rights.
- Accountability and the right to effective remedy: Where states’ actions and omissions in relation to the impacts of climate change result in human rights violations, victims should have access to an effective remedy.