I am pleased to open this panel discussion on the human rights impacts of climate change on people in vulnerable situations.
A safe and stable climate is an integral component of the right to a healthy environment, a right that was recognised by this Council in its landmark resolution 48/13.
At the Stockholm+50 meeting earlier this month convened by the General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General urged all States to embrace the right to a healthy environment. He also called for immediate and ambitious action to address the climate crisis.
Climate change is affecting the human rights of everyone, everywhere. We know this: wherever we are, we see it and we feel it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that at least 3.3 billion people are highly vulnerable to its impacts. The Secretary-General has described both an environmental and a social justice crisis.
And, as with most other crises, people who are already in vulnerable situations are at higher risk of suffering negative impacts, and of suffering them more acutely.
Social and economic constructs, combined with multiple forms of discrimination, make persons in marginalized or vulnerable situations more exposed to the negative impacts of climate change. This includes indigenous peoples, local and rural communities, peasants, migrants, children, women, and persons with disabilities, among other groups and communities.
For many indigenous peoples, climate change is jeopardizing food security, traditional livelihoods, cultural practices and their effective right to self-determination. The risk is even greater for those with insecure land and resource rights.
In rural communities in all parts of the world, climate change is reducing the land’s ability to produce food and restricting people’s access to sufficient food, with devastating impacts for local communities and peasants. The impact on women and children in rural areas, who are more likely to be living in poverty or suffer from malnutrition, is particularly significant.
Moreover, climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and severity of droughts, which from 2009 to 2019 affected over 100 million people, severely impacting their rights to life, livelihoods and their food security. And on current trajectories, it will do so even more sharply in the future. Women are affected twice as much as men by drought, land degradation, and deforestation – exacerbated by their frequently unequal and more limited opportunities to access or own land.
In small island developing States, intensifying floods, typhoons, cyclones, and hurricanes batter homes and communities, while sea level rise swallows coastal land and contaminates the groundwater people need to survive – threatening the very existence of some nations.
Least developed countries and small island developing States together account for about 2 per cent of global emissions, while G20 members alone are responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is, to say the least, inequity at its most stark. In that regard, I welcome that courts around the world – including in States with responsibility for high levels of historic and current emissions – are increasingly reasoning from human rights bases to order protective legal remedies against both Governments and private actors.
The Secretary-General’s report on human rights and climate change calls for urgent emission reductions and scaled up adaptation to limit its impacts on the most vulnerable, and to build resilience.
Climate action can only be fully effective when it integrates the perspectives of people in vulnerable situations. We observe, for instance, that rural communities or indigenous peoples are key actors in the preservation of ecosystems that support carbon absorption, management and storage – key mitigators of climate change.
And I cannot overstate the critical contribution of environmental human rights defenders to these efforts, and the need to better protect them.
As recognised by the Secretary-General, the contribution of persons in vulnerable situations to climate marches, civil society organizations, grass-roots initiatives and climate litigation is critical to effecting positive change.
I mention just three diverse examples of such engagement:
- The Seed indigenous youth climate network, which brings together aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to protect their land, culture and communities from fossil fuel extraction and global heating.
- The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s feminist participatory action research programme in which indigenous women and LGBTI persons documented their experiences, responses and needs, to support those most affected by climate change in shaping climate policies.
- The Wampis Nation in the Peruvian Amazon, which is developing its own climate adaptation plan to limit climate harms and reduce forest degradation by 2030.
This Council, in its resolution 47/24, called upon States to enhance international cooperation and assistance, including climate finance, in support of developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
For the most vulnerable countries, climate finance – in sufficient measure – is key to building resilience and adaptive capacities.
A human rights-based approach to climate finance entails ensuring that such finance is accessible to those most in need. Ringfencing 50 per cent of all climate finance for adaptation and making it available in the form of grants rather than loans would be a major step towards achieving this end.
My Office supports and promotes the participation of persons in vulnerable situations in climate action and advocates for the integration of human rights in the UNFCCC work streams, including on loss and damage and climate finance.
Today’s panel is an opportunity to share ideas for inclusive and effective climate action.
My Office is committed to support you in this endeavour, and to meet our collective commitment to leave no one behind.
We must act now, act collectively and act generously. Timing is running out.