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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Addressing climate change – now

03 July 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


53rd session of the Human Rights Council



Adverse impact of climate change on the full realization of the right to food

Mr Vice President,
Distinguished delegates and co-panellists,

We know that our environment is burning. It's melting. It's flooding. It's depleting. It's drying.

It's dying.

The predictable, regular swing of the seasons is wildly off course. Cyclones of unprecedented proportions whip up lethal storm surges. A heatwave pulsates across the ocean, threatening marine life, fisheries and coral. And inland seas and lakes, which have nourished generation upon generation of farmers and fishers, are turning into dust bowls.

I saw that earlier this year near the Aral Sea when I visited Uzbekistan.

Yet still we are not acting with the urgency and determination that is required. Leaders perform the choreography of deciding to act and promising to act and then... get stuck in the short term.

On our current course, the average temperature increase by the end of this century is predicted to be 3° Celsius, and our ecosystems – our air, our food, our water, and human life itself – would be unrecognisable.

Vast territories would disappear under rising oceans, or become effectively uninhabitable, due to heat and lack of water. Last August, the temperature in Basrah, in southern Iraq, rose to 52.6°C. I will be travelling to Iraq later this year, in part to highlight the risks of this dystopian future.

Our topic this morning is the right to food, and clearly this is comprehensively threatened by climate change.

Extreme weather events, and both sudden and gradual disasters caused by climate change, wipe out crops, herds, fisheries and entire ecosystems.

Their repetition makes it impossible for communities to rebuild and support themselves.

Globally, there has been a 134% increase in climate-fueled, flood-related disasters between 2000-2023.

More than 828 million people faced hunger in 2021. And climate change is projected to place up to 80 million more people at risk of hunger by the middle of this century – creating a truly terrifying scale of desperation and need.

Already, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, weather extremes related to climate change have damaged the productivity of all agricultural and fishery sectors, with negative consequences for people’s food security and livelihoods. Currently, this impact is worst for small-scale farmers, and for people in Africa below the Sahara; across Asia, in small island States, and in Central and South America.

As global heating accelerates, these repercussions will grow more widespread and more intense. No country will be spared. The worst hit will be people in countries where there is already food insecurity, and where protection systems are not sufficiently robust to respond effectively to climate shocks.

Often, these are countries that benefitted little from industrial development, and contributed next to nothing to the industrial processes which are killing our environment and violating rights.

If this is not a human rights issue, what is?

We must not deliver this future of hunger and suffering to our children, and their children. And we don't have to.

We, the generation with the most powerful technological tools in history, have the capacity to change it.

If we put an end to senseless subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and start phasing out of fossil fuels.

If we make COP28 the decisive game-changer that we so badly need.

If courts around the world that are engaged in climate litigation cases hold businesses and Governments to account.

If we shun the greenwashers and those who cast doubt on evidence and facts, out of their own greed.

If we rise above the forces of polarisation, and unify around the imperative of doing the utmost to address climate change, and as a result fulfil human rights.

If we transform international development and financing institutions into engines of climate action, so that the countries and people most affected gain access to climate financing.

If measures to uphold good governance are adopted, so that when financing becomes available, it brings support, and remedy, to the most affected people.

Then a just transition to a green economy – nationally, and globally – can take place.

We can fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals. We can realise our universal right to food.

And we can uphold our right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as was adopted by the General Assembly last year.

We can. Because there is still time to act. But that time is now.

We must not leave this for our children to fix – no matter how inspiring their activism. The people who must act – who have the responsibility to act – are our leaders, today.

I ask every member of this Council to take this clear message out of the Palais des Nations and into every aspect of their work.

Addressing climate change is a human rights issue. And the world demands action, now.

Thank you Mr Vice President