Climate change is a human rights issue: 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

Geneva, 10 June 2014 – A range of experts have sounded the alarm over climate change at a Human Rights Council side event jointly organized by the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) and the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR).

The Permanent Representative of the Philippines, Cecilia B. Rebong, and a panel of Geneva-based experts have called on States to act urgently to combat global warming and avoid further catastrophic global temperature rises.

Speaking at the event, the Chief Operating Officer of Green Cross International, Adam Koniuszewski said that it would be difficult to hold two degrees warming target as we are already 0.8 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, past emissions already committed us to a further 0.6 degrees of warming. He warned that the world should brace for more droughts, more floods and more freak weather events.

Mr. Koniuszewski also noted that China, India and Brazil were some of the countries involved in a development race to catch up with the West. China, he added, already had some 120 million cars on the road, which is expected to increase dramatically over the coming decades.

He said that technology can play a role in helping us lower our carbon footprints and that coherent energy efficiency and conservation measures can help to dramatically reduce energy waste at a profit and generate resources for additional mitigation and adaptation action.

Gonzalo Oviedo, the IUCN’s senior adviser on social policy echoed Mr Koniuszewskis’s warnings: “We are facing a massive trend of changes in the planet that will last for centuries, even if countries agree to cut their carbon emissions”.

Mr. Oviedo called for a systematic value-based approach to combat negative impacts. This did not appear to be understood during the political negotiations to date.

H. E. Ambassador Rebong established an undeniable link between climate change and human rights. She said that in the Philippines 47% of the land was devoted to agriculture and that according to the scientists for each degree of global warming there is a 10% to 15% drop in production.

The Ambassador noted that many countries had resisted a resolution on climate change and human rights but the Philippines together with Bangladesh aimed to put the issue back on the agenda.

Finally, José Riera, senior adviser to the director of international protection at the UNHCR, argued the case for indigenous and nomadic peoples, island peoples and those living in shanty towns next to big cities.

“The front line of climate change is on each of their own individual doorsteps, he said, “Can I stay or should I go is poised to become one of the existential questions of the 21st century – and people will move in increasing numbers”.

All of the panelists urged States to consider climate change a human rights issue and one that requires urgent attention even if some effects were already irreversible.

“If we fail to plan, we plan to fail,” stated Mr. Riera.

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