States have legal obligations to prevent and alleviate climate change, says UN

By agency reporter
November 23, 2018

Ahead of a crucial climate change meeting next month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, has sent an open letter to all States warning that "human rights are under threat from a force which challenges the foundations of all life, as we know it, on this planet we share."

In the open letter, which Bachelet sent to States in advance of next month’s COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland, she pointed out that the decisions taken at the meeting will govern climate action under the 2015 Paris agreement "for the indefinite future," and said that "the rights of the millions of people [are] threatened by climate change."

She urged States attending the meeting to work together "to take effective, ambitious, urgent, human rights-based climate action now."

"Climate change is already affecting people’s lives, the effective enjoyment of their rights, and the ecosystems on which we all rely", Bachelet warned.

"We know," she said, "that the sum total of States’ current nationally determined contributions put us on track for roughly 3ºC of warming, more than twice the target the international community agreed to pursue efforts to reach three years ago in Paris."

"The consequences of this degree of climate change are unthinkable," the High Commissioner said. "Entire nations, ecosystems, peoples and ways of life could simply cease to exist."

"Countless lives will be irreparably harmed", she added, "starting with those who already face discrimination because of their gender; because of their economic status; because they are members of indigenous peoples or minorities; because they are migrants, or internally displaced; because of their age; or because they are people with disabilities."

In her letter, the UN Human Rights Chief reminded States of their obligations under international human rights law:  these include an obligation "to ensure that those affected by climate change, particularly those in vulnerable situations, have access to effective remedies and the necessary means of adaptation to enjoy lives of human dignity" she said. "They also have an obligation to strengthen their mitigation commitments in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change."

To achieve these objectives, Bachelet said States "must work individually and collectively to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, to mobilize adequate resources for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and to ensure the meaningful participation of all persons in climate action."

* Read the full text of the open letter here

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx


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