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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Panel discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change

08 July 2020

Human Rights Council 44th Session

Statement by Nada Al- Nashif
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

8 July 2020

Distinguished Vice-President of the Council,
Distinguished panellists,

I am honoured to open this panel discussion on the rights of people with disabilities in the context of climate change.

My Office is at the forefront of advocacy efforts to prevent and mitigate the threat of climate change to human rights and to stop the destruction of our environment.

The climate emergency is already affecting the rights of all people worldwide. However, as with other crises, notably the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected us all, those marginalized are the most vulnerable.

Among them are people with disabilities. Representing 15 per cent of the world’s population, they are around 1 billion individuals who may experience climate change impacts differently and more severely than others.  

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities highlights that the majority of those with disabilities live in poverty. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change foresees that the poorest will continue to experience the worst effects of climate change through lost income and livelihood opportunities, displacement, hunger and adverse health impacts.

Indeed, the study submitted by our Office at the request of Council Resolution 41/21 finds that poverty is one of the key components affecting the exposure of persons with disabilities to the impacts of climate change. Others are discrimination and stigma.

Intersecting factors related to gender, age, ethnicity, geography, migration, religion and sex can put persons with disabilities at even higher risks.  

Persons with disabilities are often among those most adversely affected in any given emergency -- and among those least able to access emergency support.

Both sudden onset natural disasters and slow onset events, such as rising temperatures and sea levels, flooding and landslides, biodiversity loss, and increasingly frequent extreme weather events can seriously affect their access to food and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, health-care services and medicines, education and training, adequate housing and decent work.

Given that persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by climate change, they must be taken into account in climate action efforts. Both as beneficiaries and decision makers in policies raising and  responding to their concerns.

Indeed, according to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, States should incorporate and mainstream disability inclusion in their policies, programmes and actions on climate change.

Data collection and disaggregation by disability will be fundamental to achieving this objective.


It is clear that for climate action to be genuinely inclusive, it needs the meaningful, informed and effective participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

This includes enhancing their social protection and climate resilience, as well as raising awareness with emergency responders and humanitarian and development actors.

Efforts must be accountable to persons with disabilities at all stages, ensuring their access to information and empowering them to address the harmful impacts of climate change in their daily lives.

Above all, their participation in related decision-making processes must be guaranteed from policy design to implementation, welcoming the engagement of persons with disabilities in all their diversity.

This human rights-based approach contributes to more ambitious, effective and ultimately more sustainable climate action.

I am pleased that we have some inspiring examples in this regard.

In Bangladesh, the Gaibandha model aims to build disability-inclusive resilience in response to flooding, uniting employment support for persons with disabilities and inclusive governance mechanisms. The model, implemented by disability and development NGO CBM, in collaboration with NGO Gaya Unnayan Kendra, focuses efforts at households, communities and cities to protect persons with disabilities from bearing the brunt of climate change.

In Nepal, a project on disaster risk management implemented by NGO Humanity and Inclusion included local organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making, raised awareness in the communities, and conducted vulnerability and capacity assessments. The local Disaster Management Committees used these findings to shape action plans for preparedness and mitigation measures. As a result, communities became more resilient, and persons with disabilities were empowered.

In Ethiopia, a project aimed at increasing drought resistance by the Gayo Pastoralist Development Initiative has also addressed stigma, leading to a change in attitude toward persons with disabilities within the community.


It is evident that for climate action to be effective,  all of society must be engaged and we must leave no one behind.

This has become ever more evident in the past months, when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted deep and disturbing inequalities in every society.

It also has stressed the links between human health and that of the planet.

We cannot go back to ”business as usual” – and “build back better” must not remain an empty slogan.

That means inclusive housing and infrastructure, following the principles of universal design.

It also means that economic stimulus packages must protect and benefit persons in vulnerable situations, including those with disabilities, while advancing efforts to fulfil all human rights, including the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

When taking action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I call on States to ensure that these efforts are disability-inclusive and rights-based.

I urge Member States to use today’s discussion to develop a deeper understanding of the impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities, identify concrete disability-inclusive actions to address these impacts and share best practices.

Our Office remains committed to support you in taking more ambitious climate action to limit the impacts of the climate emergency change on all people and to increase the climate resilience of all communities. 

Thank you.