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Climate change

“I lost friends, relatives, our house”

26 July 2022

A villager holding a baby maneuvers on a makeshift bridge at a flooded community brought by Typhoon Conson in Muntinlupa city, Metro Manila, Philippines, 10 September 2021 © Francis R. Malasig/EPA-EFE

“I lost friends, relatives, our house, our livelihood, our possessions,” said Marinel Ubaldo. “We are being deprived of our basic human rights, including our right to a safe environment.”

Ubaldo, who is from a coastal community in Samar, in the eastern Philippines, recounted her experience during the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

Hers was one of the dramatic stories heard at a recent panel discussion on the adverse effects of climate change at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

More people have been forced to flee their homes because of drought and other natural disasters caused by climate change than by armed conflict, and the scale of human displacement is growing every year, experts at the panel warned.

“We are facing a growing tide of people displaced by the impacts of climate change. This is an intolerable human rights tragedy. Tragically there are people, due to their particular circumstances, who cannot escape these disasters. These are ones trapped and left behind,” said Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

Fry said that in 2021, 59.1 million people had been displaced by extreme weather events made worse by climate change, up from 19.2 million in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019.

“More people are being displaced by climate change than armed conflict, although in many cases, the two are closely linked.”

A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that at least 3.3 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Cattle dying, land too dry to farm

Before the panellists spoke, the audience was shown a video from the Collective for Climate Rights network with testimonies from people directly affected by the impact of climate change.

Roland Ngam, project manager for Climate Justice at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southern Africa office, said lack of rains meant that cattle were dying in large numbers in Angola, Namibia and South Africa, threatening livelihoods, and that about two million people had been affected by drought in southern Madagascar.

“A million people in South Africa already have stopped farming because it is too dry to farm,” Ngam said.

Ivonne Yanez said the glaciers in the Ecuadorean Andes were disappearing and that millions of people ran the risk of not having water in the future, while Merryl Habchy from Lebanon spoke of the damage that wild fires and high temperatures had caused to her country’s agricultural sector.

From Vanuatu, in the Pacific Islands, Marie Joanita Meltebury made an appeal to governments to end fossil fuel subsidies everywhere.

“The people and communities of Blue Pacific are living in a climate emergency, a crisis that sadly is ignored by many countries including those nearest to our islands,” Meltebury said.

The right for life, a decent life, a peaceful life, and a healthy life will be destroyed by climate change if it is not addressed, since climate change affects all kinds of human rights, without any exception.

Nisreen Elsaim, Chair of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change

Opening the panel, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, said that climate change is “affecting the human rights of everyone, everywhere.”

But she pointed out that marginalised and communities in vulnerable situations are at a higher risk of suffering the most severe consequences, from deforestation to food security to the loss of land and traditional livelihoods. Communities in vulnerable situations include indigenous peoples, rural communities, migrants, children, women, and persons with disabilities.

“In rural communities, climate change can restrict access to food, with devastating impacts for local communities and peasants. The impact on women and children in rural areas, who are more likely to be living in poverty or suffer from malnutrition, is particularly significant,” Bachelet said.

The High Commissioner called for a human rights-based approach to climate finance to ensure that support in the form of grants rather than loans is accessible to those most in need.

Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said that while the members of the Group of 20 major economies (G20) are responsible for 80% of global emissions, small island and developing States and least-developed countries combined account for only about 2% of those emissions.

“The responsibility for the climate crisis is not shared equally and the responsibility for climate action must fall most heavily on those who have driven the crisis across history and across the world,” said Muffett.

Sara Oliveros López, a member of the Nahua indigenous community in Mexico and secretary of the Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCA), said the voice and experience of the indigenous communities must be heard loud and clear at international climate summits.

“There is growing evidence of the role that indigenous peoples and local communities play in biodiversity conservation and in the immediate and effective responses to climate change that we can offer the planet,” she said.