Why is climate change a human rights issue?
Human rights are intimately linked with climate change because of its devastating effect on not just the environment but our own wellbeing. In addition to threatening our very existence, climate change is having harmful impacts on our rights to life, health, food, water, housing and livelihoods.
The longer governments wait to take meaningful action, the harder the problem becomes to solve, and the greater the risk that emissions will be reduced through means that increase inequality rather than reduce it.
These are some of the ways climate change is impacting and will impact our human rights:
Right to life – We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety. But climate change threatens the safety of billions of people on this planet. The most obvious example is through extreme weather-related events, such as storms, floods and wildfires.
Right to health – We all have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. According to the IPCC, the major health impacts of climate change will include greater risk of injury, disease and death due to more intense heatwaves and fires; increased risk of under-nutrition as a result of diminished food production in poor regions; and increased risks of food- and water-borne diseases, and vector-borne diseases.
Right to housing – We all have a right to an adequate standard of living for ourselves and our families, including adequate housing. Extreme weather events like floods and wildfires are already destroying people’s homes, leaving them displaced. Drought, erosion and flooding can also over time change the environment whilst sea-level rises threaten the homes of millions of people around the world in low-lying territories.
Rights to water and to sanitation – We all have the right to safe water for personal and domestic use and to sanitation that ensures we stay healthy. But a combination of factors such as melting snow and ice, reduced rainfall, higher temperatures and rising sea levels show that climate change is affecting and will continue to affect the quality and quantity of water resources.