UNEP (the United Nations Environment Program) has released a report “Safe Climate” which concludes that climate change and its impacts threaten a broad range of human rights and, as a result, states and private actors have extensive human rights obligations and responsibilities.
The report (released 4 October) was written in cooperation with a UN Special Rapporteur David Boyd on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
"The climate crisis threatens the right to water and sanitation, contributing to water crises. For example, in Bolivia glaciers are receding and water rationing has been required in major cities. It is estimated that with a 2°C increase in temperature, at least 100 million more people will face water insecurity", the report says.
In addition, entire communities, such as Vunidogoloa, Fiji, are in the process of relocation due to rising sea levels, coastal erosion, storm surges, and salinization. The report estimates that within 30 years, 150 million people or more could be displaced by these direct impacts of the climate crisis.
Health impacts include increased incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, malnutrition, stunting, wasting, allergies, injuries and mental illness. At the far end of the range of impacts are climate-related deaths specifically caused by extreme weather events that include water-borne and vector-borne diseases, malnutrition, heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires, and air pollution. Each year, there are 150,000 pre-mature deaths linked to the climate crisis and this number will rise as temperatures increase.
The report cites findings of the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, that “the climate crisis is the biggest global health threat of the twenty-first century and could reverse five decades of progress in global health, particularly as it endangers the right to food.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO) in its 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World states that: “Climate variability and extremes are among the key drivers behind the recent uptick in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe food crises. The cumulative effect of changes in climate is undermining all dimensions of food security—food availability, access, utilization and stability.”
The right to a healthy environment is recognized by law in at least 155 Member States and a government’s failure to take adequate steps to address climate change would constitute a violation of this right.
The Safe Climate report indicates that governments have an obligation to take effective measures to mitigate climate change, enhance the adaptive capacity of vulnerable populations and prevent foreseeable loss of life.
The Special Rapporteur calls on wealthy states to contribute their fair share towards the cost of mitigation and adaptation in low-income countries—as countries are not equally responsible—nor affected—by the climate crisis.