Climate Apartheid Looms If We Fail To Address Impacts, Expert Adviser Warns UN

September 25, 2019

Ongoing risks spurred by climate change threaten democracy and human rights, leading to a disproportionate burden on people living in poverty, according to a special report released by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Tuesday.

The last five years have seen the hottest in the modern record. As global carbon emissions continue to climb – last year saw the biggest hike since 2010 – even a best-case scenario warming of 1.5°C by 2100 will likely result in extreme temperatures in many regions, pushing impoverished communities to food insecurity, lost incomes, worse health, and even death. All of these factors play a role in human rights, especially for those living in poverty.

“Even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, in a press release. Alston is an independent expert reporting on his findings but does not speak on behalf of the UN.

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work,” he said, adding that those living in poverty are typically responsible for less global emissions but will “bear the brunt” of climate change while the wealthy will be able to pay to escape.

Satellite view of the wildfires in Paradise, California. The 2018 fire season was the state’s deadliest and most destructive in history. elRoce/Shutterstock

A report published last year affirms the findings, suggesting that over the next three decades, more than 143 million people inhabiting some of the world’s most densely populated regions will be forced to migrate, setting the stage for a “human crisis”. Much of the US has seen it as well, with California suffering from the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in history last fall to continued widespread flooding through the midwestern part of the country that has halted economic transactions and displaced thousands. In 2018, more than a quarter million Americans were displaced due to flooding, storm surges, and intense winds, among other things, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

As the planet warms, Alston notes that governments around the world have failed to address the long-term consequences of climate change on human health and safety, in particular by not devoting enough attention and resources to the issue. Paired with inadequate commitments to reduce carbon emissions, he notes the future state of the climate is a recipe for “economic catastrophe”.

“Most human rights bodies have barely begun to grapple with what climate change portends for human rights, and it remains one on a long laundry list of ‘issues’, despite the extraordinarily short time to avoid catastrophic consequences,” Alston said. “As a full-blown crisis that threatens the human rights of vast numbers of people bears down, the usual piecemeal, issue-by-issue human rights methodology is woefully insufficient.”


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