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The Human Rights Impact of Climate Change: An International and Local Challenge

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14 March 2022

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

14 March 2022

Special Representative Gilmore,
Climate Envoy Stege,
Colleagues and friends,

Thank you for joining us today.

The climate emergency is tearing apart the lives of people around the world.

Taking urgent and concerted action on this emergency – a climate crisis deeply interlinked with pollution, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss that threatens all life on the planet – is a human rights imperative.

The climate emergency affects each and every one of us, and in increasingly direct and severe ways. All the trend-lines are pointing in the wrong direction.

But it is vulnerable communities and people who all too often experience its worst ramifications. Their human rights - including to life, health, housing, decent work, water, culture and self-determination - are under profound threat.

Ultimately, their survival – and that of all others - is at stake.

The science could not be any clearer. The newly released report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further adds to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence documenting that climate change is causing real, dangerous and widespread disruptions in nature with corresponding impacts on people’s health and welfare.

Without urgent and unprecedented action, the world will exceed 1.5℃ warming within the next decade. We know that in cities, this means more than one billion people who live in low-lying places will face rising sea levels, subsiding coasts or flooding at high tides. Some 350 million others will live with the threat of water scarcity.

The Secretary-General powerfully described the Intergovernmental Panel report’s conclusions as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”  

We are in a race against time. As the report clearly states, the magnitude and rate of climate change and the risks it brings with it depend strongly on the action that we take now.

 And we know that the costs of inaction and delay are rising exponentially, day by day, year by year.

Today’s event is about the people at the heart of this crisis, in all regions of the world. We will hear from representatives of communities and cities around the world who will speak of human suffering and human ingenuity in the face of climate change.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to their critical work in painting vividly the real human costs of global trends and scientific datasets, but also to the courage and change that can be achieved through collective action at local as well as national levels.

This is exactly what the human rights-based approach is all about: putting people at the centre and ensuring they actively and meaningfully participate in policy-making.

To produce sturdy and effective climate policies based on evidence and human rights, Member States need to be acutely aware of who they are developing their policies for. They need to know exactly how and the different ways in which climate change affects the human rights of the people they are trying to protect. 

Member States need to include those at highest risk of the adverse effects of climate change in policy-making. Only through meaningful and informed participation, can we be sure to take effective measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change in a manner that responds to the needs and protects the rights of those most affected.    

For over a decade, the Human Rights Council has worked to highlight and address the human rights impacts of climate change. Council resolution 48/14 established a new Special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, who will be appointed during this Council session. The new mandate-holder will be an important support to efforts to identify good practices and policy solutions for rights-based climate action – at the local, national and international levels. I look forward to close engagement with this mandate.

All around the world, my Office works to support communities, cities and countries take action based on human rights to address the adverse impacts of climate change. In South-East Asia, for example, we work closely with a variety of stakeholders to promote human rights-based climate adaptation, including by advocating for local governments to put human rights at the centre of humanitarian action when they respond to climate and environment emergencies.

In the Pacific, we are addressing the impact of the climate crisis on indigenous peoples and are working with States to develop a regional human rights protection instrument to address climate change related migration.

In the Sahel region, a climate change hotspot, climate variations have severely affected water resources and exacerbated droughts and flooding. People are compelled to move in massive numbers, simply to survive. In this region, heightened competition for scarce natural resources is further increasing the risk of intercommunal tensions, putting human security under grave threat.

My Office is currently piloting a project on climate-related displacement in Mauritania, Nigeria and Niger. It will build knowledge of the impacts of climate change on specific communities and the related human rights protection gaps. Through a stronger understanding of the migration challenges posed by climate change, we will be able to better promote approaches which focus on human rights, and which are gender-responsive.

These types of people-centred, community-driven approaches should be at the heart of all climate action. I hope that today’s discussion, with its focus on local, people-centred solutions, can inform the work, including of my Office and the Council, on climate action based on – and better protecting - human rights.

These are precisely the kinds of solutions we need to identify, enable, scale and finance to weather the climate crisis together.

Thank you.


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