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Panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change
Human Rights Council 47th Session

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30 June 2021

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

30 June 2021

Distinguished President,
Excellencies,
Colleagues,

I welcome the Council’s attention to the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change. 

Population ageing and climate change have significant implications for human rights. By the year 2050, it is estimated that humanity will include 1.5 billion people aged 65 and above. And by 2050, if greenhouse gas emissions have not been reduced to net zero, global warming will exceed 1.5° Celsius. 

The impact of climate change is direct, measurable and real for each person alive today, wherever in the world she lives. But climate change has particularly significant implications for people over 65, especially when physical, political, economic and social factors make them vulnerable.

Ageism contributes to this vulnerability. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how age-related discrimination creates and exacerbates the poverty and marginalization of older people, amplifying human rights risks. 

In the face of climate change, older persons are likely to face negative impacts on their health; access to food, land, water and sanitation; housing; livelihoods and fundamental well-being.

In 2003, a heatwave across much of Western Europe created crop shortfalls and killed tens of thousands of people. Out of the 14,000 heat-related deaths in France, 80 per cent were people aged over 75. 

In 2013, 70 per cent of the people who died as a result of floods in La Plata, Argentina were over the age of 60. 

The study submitted by my Office pursuant to resolution 44/7 finds that older people face disproportionate impacts from climate change on the effective enjoyment of their rights – and that they may be neglected or marginalized by climate laws and policies.  

Madam President,

The existing international human rights framework provides fragmented and inconsistent coverage of the human rights of older persons, in law and practice. Older persons are also seldom mentioned in international environmental agreements. 

There is no dedicated normative instrument on the rights of older persons, and the limitations of existing instruments can hinder their effective protection, including in the context of climate change.

However, many older persons occupy positions of authority and have benefitted from the economic development pathways that cause climate change. As a result, they have a particular responsibility to leave a better legacy for future generations. 

To the benefit of us all, many older persons are increasingly using their skills, knowledge, experience, resources, and resilience to help stop climate change and address its worst impacts:

Across Latin America, indigenous elders have formed networks of solidarity to preserve their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge and advocate for climate action that respects their entitlement to free, prior and informed consent.

In Norway, the Grandparents’ Climate Campaign has been supporting climate litigation and contributing to public advocacy on Norway’s climate policy.

In Australia, the Knitting Nannas have adapted peaceful direct action tactics to advocate for policies that preserve the environment and fight against climate change.

Excellencies,

States have legal obligations, including under international human rights law, to implement climate policies that will stop future warming; promote effective adaptation; redress existing harms; and ensure that all people – including older people – are empowered to participate in climate action. As importantly, States must also recognise and protect all persons’ ability to access the courts, in order to vindicate through legal systems their rights that are directly impacted by climate change.   
This Council has acknowledged, in its resolution 44/7, the need to support the resilience and adaptive capacities of older people to respond to climate change. It has also emphasised the importance of international cooperation and assistance to address the adverse impacts of climate change, particularly on older people. 

The study undertaken by my Office presents promising practices related to inclusive climate action that are being implemented by governments, including in the context of Mexico's implementation of the Paris Agreement; collection of age-disaggregated data for disaster recovery planning in the Philippines; and ensuring access to climate information for older people in Iraq.

I urge States to draw from today’s discussion opportunities to implement an age-inclusive approach to climate action, noting that the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing was adopted by the General Assembly last year.

My Office is committed to supporting you in taking urgent and ambitious climate action to protect all people everywhere from the worst impacts of climate change by putting human rights at the centre of climate action.

Thank you.

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