According to a UN human rights expert’s report, the risk of “climate apartheid” surges worldwide, where the rich can evade the impacts of the surging climate crisis including heat and hunger while the rest of the population are left to suffer.
According to Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, global heating, and its impacts are most likely to compromise the fundamental rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people including democracy and the rule of law.
Regarding the “patently inadequate” steps taken by the UN itself, countries, NGOs and businesses, Alston is critical of the opinion that they are “entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat.” His report to the UN human rights council (HRC) concludes: “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”
While the report criticizes President Trump for “actively silencing” climate science, it also blames Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president for promising to open up the Amazon rainforest to mining. However, Alston also mentioned some positive developments like the activism of Greta Thunberg and school strikes all over the world, legal cases against states and fossil fuel companies, and Extinction Rebellion.
In May, in a report on poverty in the UK, Alston compared Conservative party welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. According to ministers, his report represented an inaccurate picture. However, Alston accused them of “total denial of a set of uncontested facts.”
On Friday, the report of Alston on climate change and poverty will be formally presented to the HRC in Geneva. As per the report, the most significant impact of the climate crisis would be on poor people, including many of those losing access to sufficient water and food.
“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. The report stated that even though the poorest half of the population of the world contributes to just 10% of carbon dioxide emissions, developing countries will have to bear an estimated 75% of the climate crisis costs.
“Yet democracy and the rule of law, as well as a wide range of civil and political rights are every bit at risk,” Alston’s report said. “The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex.”
The climate crisis impacts could even lead to increased divisions, Alston said. “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer,” he said.
“When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York in 2012, stranding low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers without access to power and healthcare, the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator.”
All those working for upholding human rights are sharply criticized by Alston, including his own earlier work, for not raising the climate crisis as a central issue. He mentioned even the most recent HRC resolution on climate crisis failed to recognize “that the enjoyment of all human rights by vast numbers of people is gravely threatened” or “the need for the deep social and economic transformation, which almost all observers agree is urgent if climate catastrophe is to be averted.”
As per the report, international climate treaties have been ineffective, and the world is on the path for a catastrophic 3C (equal to a rise of 5.4F) of heating even with the 2015 Paris Agreement in place but with no effect. “States have marched past every scientific warning and threshold, and what was once considered catastrophic warming now seems like a best-case scenario,” the report said.
Out of the few individuals mentioned in the report, the US president is named among them. “He has placed former lobbyists in oversight roles, adopted industry talking points, presided over an aggressive rollback of environmental regulations, and is actively silencing and obfuscating climate science.”
However, there lies an opportunity to improve the lives of poor people bringing about the required changes to societies and economies at large, Alston said. “This crisis should be a catalyst for states to fulfill long-ignored economic and social rights, including to social security and access to food, healthcare, shelter, and decent work,” the report said.
Ashfaq Khalfan at Amnesty International said: “Climate change is a human rights issue precisely because of the impact it’s having on people. The primary obligation to protect people from human rights harms lies with states. A state that fails to take any feasible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is violating their human rights obligations.”
Amnesty has planned to target governments and companies dealing with fossil fuel, Ashfaq said. “We need everybody to live up to their responsibilities to act on climate change and protect human rights,” he added.