The Heat Is Online

Climate Change Impacts Human Rights: Former UN Rights Chief

Rights focus sought over climate, Dec. 11, 2006


Attention to human rights is needed in tackling climate change, according to former UN human rights chief and former Irish President Mary Robinson.


In a lecture at Chatham House, a think-tank in London, she argues that climate change is now an issue of global injustice.


The ex-UN high commissioner for human rights urges policymakers to adopt "a radically different approach".


She also says that rich nations should meet their climate change obligations.


According to advance notes of her speech, she would argue: "We can no longer think of climate change as an issue where we the rich give charity to the poor to help them cope.


"Climate change has already begun to affect the fulfilment of human rights and our shared human rights framework entitles and empowers developing countries and impoverished communities to claim protection of these rights."


Ms. Robinson believes that the same kind of multilateral efforts that led to the global eradication of smallpox and the phasing out of CFC gases should be applied to climate issues.


The issue of human rights was often raised at last month's UN climate talks in Nairobi, notably by development agencies working in Africa, such as Oxfam and Christian Aid.


Stern warning


A recent report by the former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern, suggested that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.


But taking action now would cost just 1% of the world's gross domestic product every year, the 700-page study said.


The Stern Report also said that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood.


Scientists say poor countries are likely to be worst-hit because of their concentration in the tropics, heavy reliance on agriculture and their limited capacity to deal with natural disasters.


"There is strong evidence of the rich causing the problem, with the poor most adversely affected, and thus it is time that rich countries address their obligations to reduce climate change and mitigate its effects, including those beyond their borders," Ms. Robinson argues.

The lecture marks the 25th anniversary of the death of environmentalist Barbara Ward, who founded the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in 1971.