Climate Change: Could This Be the Greatest Human Rights Abuse in History?

By: Vivian Allison

The Effects of Climate Change

“Climate change is a reality that now affects every region of the world. The human implications of currently projected levels of global heating are catastrophic. Storms are rising and tides could submerge entire island nations and coastal cities. Fires rage through our forests, and the ice is melting. We are burning up our future – literally.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 9 September 2019, Opening Statement to the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council

It is undebatable that climate change is happening, and the culprit is human activity. An ever-increasing amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere lead to an increase in temperature and severe weather alterations. Rising sea levels, water shortages, droughts and the spread of diseases are all correlated to climate change. Further, devastating hurricanes, rainfalls, snowstorms, flooding, wildfires and heat waves make weather patterns unpredictable and life-threatening. It is not just the natural world that is suffering, but all of humanity as well. Consequently, along with the indisputability that climate change is taking place right now, it is without question a human rights abuse. 

Photo credits to Paddy O Sullivan

Climate Change as a Human Rights Abuse 

“As climate change intensifies, the inaction of our governments may render it to be the greatest human rights abuse in history.”

With the destruction that comes in the wake of climate change, basic human rights to food, clean water, and general health are undermined. The very survival of island states and coastal societies is in doubt as sea levels rise. With declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and alarming health consequences, millions of people are affected by this crisis. It leaves entire nations homeless, sick, or without food and water. These are all breaches against human rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development. 

However, these are not the only human rights breaches caused by climate change. Human rights to maintain sovereignty and economic well-being are compromised for those who experience the severe impacts of environmental degradation. Tragically, the countries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions the least are often those that are the most affected. The disproportionate impacts of climate change are also felt by individuals who already face disadvantaged realities. Poverty, geography, gender, age, disabilities, culture and ethnic backgrounds contribute to the devastating effects of climate change, and therefore only intensifying these existing inequalities. 

By virtue of basic human rights and of the dignity to life, governments must intervene to curb the causes of climate change and protect the lives of our global community. Our current and future generations will experience these effects as environmental destruction intensifies. No nation, society, or individual will be exempt from these catastrophes, thus making it a global concern and a breach in every individual’s human rights. As climate change intensifies, the inaction of our governments may render it to be the greatest human rights abuse in history. 

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