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Environment and climate change

Special Rapporteur on the right to health

The right to health is an inclusive right, extending not only to health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as:

  • access to quality food, safe and potable water and adequate sanitation
  • healthy occupational and environmental conditions
  • access to health-related education and information.

Climate change: an alarming effect on the right to health

The effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of the right to health already are alarming. They are threatening human health and well-being by increasing causes of morbidity and mortality. Climate-related changes such as heat, drought, flood, hurricanes, are associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disorders, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and renal problems. Environment determinants such as pollen, smoke, dust, stagnant water can lead to chronic ailments.

Climate change also has a negative impact on human dignity and security. Its human and environmental impacts include loss of land and housing, diminished quantity and quality of food production, food insecurity and malnutrition, and forced displacement.

As climate change is intrinsically discriminatory, it perpetuates existing inequalities. Those most affected are the ones in vulnerable situations, the poor and marginalized. They are most affected not only by associated conflict, ill-health and disease but also by fragile and inadequate public health and health care systems, which are unable to cope with the threat-multiplying effects of climate change.

Impact on mental health

Climate change is not only affecting human physical health, it also has an impact on a person’s mental health and well-being. Poor physical health and ailments are associated with poor quality of life and psychological distress. (See statement by the Special Rapporteur for a Panel Discussion on the Impacts of Climate Change on the Right to Health in the context of the Analytical Study on the Impacts of Climate Change on the Right to Health, 2016.)

Paris agreement: recognizing human rights in the fight against climate rights

With the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change responded to the calls of many to have a robust reference to human rights in the agreement. While the language is not as robust as many of us would have wanted, it is the first multilateral environmental agreement to explicitly recognize the importance of human rights in taking on climate change.

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