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Climate change and human rights

Cracked earth, Senegal - © UN Photo / Evan SchneiderClimate change is a reality and can seriously harm the future development of our economies, societies and eco-systems worldwide, according to this year’s scientific report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The human impact of climate change can also ose a threat to a wide range of universally recognized fundamental rights, such as the rights to life, food, adequate housing, health, and water

From 3 to 14 December, some 130 Environment Ministers and high-ranking government officials will meet in Bali (Indonesia) at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2007 to discuss this global concern. The Bali conference will be the culmination of a momentous twelve months in the climate debate and needs a breakthrough in the form of a roadmap for a future climate change deal. Other important issues will be under negotiation in Bali including adaptation to climate change, the launch of a Fund for adaptation, reducing emissions from deforestation, issues relating to the carbon market, and arrangements for a review of the Kyoto Protocol.

As a global environmental hazard, climate change affects the enjoyment of human rights as a whole and therefore, it is at the core of the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of each and all human rights as initially emphasized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Indeed, marginalized groups, whether in industrialized or developing countries and across all cultures and boundaries, are particularly vulnerable to the dire consequences of climate change. For example, small-scale farmers, women in rural areas, those not having adequate access to safe-drinking water, healthcare and social security, refugees, internally displaced, and the poor who are already living at the margins of survival would suffer disproportionately the consequences of global warming.

Indigenous peoples, and residents of small island states and Least Developed Countries, are also among those who will be the first to suffer from climate change.  Emerging evidence suggests that the livelihoods and cultural identities of indigenous peoples across all regions, such as the Inuit from North America, the Sami people from the Nordic countries and the Russian Peninsula of Kola, the Massai Tribe from Africa, and indigenous populations in Latin America, Central Asia and the Pacific Rim, are threatened by the detrimental impacts of Climate change partly because their means of subsistence are highly dependent on nature.

The most vulnerable will suffer earliest and the most from climate change.  Climate change therefore should be addressed in a way that is fair and just, cognizant of the needs and risks faced by the vulnerable groups, and adherent to the principles of non-discrimination and equality.  Any sustainable solution to climate change must take into account its human impact and the needs of all communities in all countries in a holistic manner.

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