Protect the human…and the world we live in too

27 November 2015, 16:56 UTC | New Zealand, Worldwide
Villagers protest against a copper mine project in front of Lapdaung hill in Myanmar © REUTERS
by Emma Thompson - Supporter Services Assistant at Amnesty International New Zealand

This Saturday, people all over the world will be joining together in their local towns and cities to be part of the People’s Climate March. This marks one of the most significant UN summits of our time: the Paris Climate Change Conference.

This will be the first time that all nations in the world will be meeting with the objective of developing a universally binding agreement on tackling climate change. Some of my colleagues and I will be attending the march to represent Amnesty International New Zealand. And in addition, Amnesty International will be attending the Paris talks themselves and have been working hard to ensure human rights are included in the draft text of the agreement.

That a human rights organisation will be involved in the conference is perhaps indicative of the severity of the issue and will hopefully put human rights at the forefront of policy-making decisions – alongside protection of the environment of course.

The impacts of rapid climate change for human civilisation are varied and quite terrifying. 

The impacts of rapid climate change for human civilisation are varied and quite terrifying. Some of them will directly compromise basic human rights such as the right to water, food and housing. And these are not abstract predictions of the future.

In July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the first seven months of 2015 was the hottest period since records began in 1880. From the drought in California compromising water-security, to thousands dying from heat-waves in southern India, the human cost of global warming is happening now.

Rising sea levels encroaching on coastal communities, increased rates of natural disasters and the poisonous effects of pollution for health are the more tangible aspects of how we can expect to suffer the effects of climate change. But there are numerous other more subtle and indirect consequences which are equally pressing and may prove even more difficult to address.

Gender inequality may not appear to have any obvious relationship to the impacts of climate change. But with women making up over 75% of agricultural workers around the world, it is they who will be experiencing first-hand the dangers of food insecurity, and with it potential unemployment. As women are also the primary providers of water in poorly irrigated regions, extreme droughts are likely to mean far greater distances required to travel, placing an even greater burden for acquiring this most basic human right.

More complicated still, Amnesty’s own concern for recognising basic human rights is linked to the forecasted displacement of people as a knock-on effect of rising sea levels, and unlivable climatic conditions. The current definition of refugees under the Refugee Convention does not currently incorporate those who now be considered ‘climate migrants’. However, it is not inconceivable that in the future there may need to be a  legal framework to ensure people having to leave  their homes, or even their country due to changing environmental conditions can still access their human rights. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has even stated that that climate change will have ‘enormous consequences’ for its’ work.

Like so many global issues, it is disproportionately the (financially) poorest countries, and the most disadvantaged individuals within these countries that bear the brunt of the world’s wicked problems. This poses an ethical dilemma for the more ‘developed’ nations, who are often the biggest contributors to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. One of Amnesty’s recommendations which will be presented in Paris will therefore be a level of international cooperation for nations who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This echoes calls from countless others including the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change asking for collective responsibility to limit the negative impacts of climate change.

We can't all be environmental scientists, so may not fully understand exactly how the emission of greenhouse gases and the warming of the earth’s atmosphere will influence the environment around us. However, as human beings we are all capable of understanding the mobilisation needed to tackling issues that threaten human rights.

To ignore the impact of climate change on human rights is to further deny how interdependent our human societies are within the natural world, something which must be at the forefront of our minds and policies when addressing what may be the most important issue of our time.

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