Climate change: Act now or pay a high price, says UN expert

Flooding damage, Manila Philippines. Creative Commons, AusAID

States must accelerate action to address climate change — from solar electricity to climate-friendly agriculture practices — or risk locking in decades of grave human rights violations, a UN expert says.

In a statement following the release of a new scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), David R. Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said that climate change rated as one of the greatest threats to human rights.

“Climate change is having and will have devastating effects on a wide range of human rights including rights to life, health, food, housing, and water, as well as the right to a healthy environment. The world is already witnessing the impacts of climate change — from hurricanes in America, heat waves in Europe, droughts in Africa to floods in Asia.”

Boyd said that for 25 years, scientists have issued increasingly clear warnings about the urgency of transforming economies and societies in cleaner, greener directions.

“There are scientific and feasible solutions to limit the damage,” he said. “States — particularly wealthy nations with high emissions — must act now to meet their human rights obligations and not only fulfill but go beyond their commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

The new report from the IPCC describes the challenges that humanity faces in the race to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change. The IPCC report identifies plausible trajectories that would improve both human and ecosystem health. However, the IPCC warns that these positive outcomes will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Keeping the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees requires urgent action to implement stronger policies and increase the level of ambition beyond commitments made under 2015’s Paris Accord.

The difference between a 1.5 degree increase and a 2.0 degree increase is dramatic. The latter would likely inflict human rights violations upon millions of people. It would increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events from heat waves to superstorms, decrease water availability and agricultural production in vulnerable areas, and increase the risk of “Hothouse Earth.”

Last updated October 9, 2018

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