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High Commissioner: Human rights must guide climate change action

Human rights chief Navi Pillay urges leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to take decisive action and warns that a failure to do so will have grave human rights consequences.

Secretary-General Opens High-level UN Conference on Climate Change - UN Photo/Mark Garten“Governments must act together and take effective measures to halt climate change and to mitigate those effects which are now unavoidable”, Pillay says.

“This is about our future and the human rights of all on our planet – the only home we have. We’re all in this together.”

The High Commissioner underlines that “policies and measures to address climate change must be mindful of the human rights dimensions of climate change.” The human rights framework brings into focus that the adverse effects of climate change are felt not only by governments and economies, but also – and more fundamentally – by individuals and communities, she adds.

In a recent resolution, the Human Rights Council also highlighted that “climate change-related impacts have a range of implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of human rights.”

The adverse “effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population who are already in vulnerable situations owing to such factors as geography, poverty, gender, age, indigenous or minority status and disability,” it said.

Climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities, which are the consequences of such factors as discrimination, health status, access to knowledge and information, and ability to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, efforts to reduce vulnerability to climate change must go hand in hand with effective protection of human rights.

An ambitious, fair and balanced deal in Copenhagen will be an important first step to protect individuals and communities worldwide against the adverse effects of climate change. Yet, Copenhagen is only the beginning of a long-term effort which will have to be sustained over several generations.

Together with the United Nations family and other partners, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stands ready to support governments to take on this challenge and to lay the groundwork for action to implement decisions taken in Copenhagen and beyond, which must be informed and guided by international human rights norms and standards.

17 December 2009