I read an article recently written by Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (via the Guardian) in which he outlined how the issue of climate change, and the myriad critical, human-related problems associated with it, should be brought up to the status of a human rights issue - by damaging our climate and endangering our societies, we are actively ignoring a basic human right. Well that’s the premise at least.
As we all know, climate change, whether it be natural or man-made, or more than likely a complex combination of both, is directly affecting every human on the globe and is a severe problem we are in desperate need of fixing.
The advent of multiple climate conventions and meetings of world powers began decades ago and still continues on today, but they’re becoming more and more like a session in the House of Commons or a high-school debate than a truly successful stage for solving the issues. Each nation leader has their own opinion and they’re not afraid to shout it loudly to the rest of the world, most of the time in contention with almost everyone else in the room.
We are quick to finger those developed and rapidly developing states which act almost to stagger climate decisions, such as Canada, the US or China to name a few, but in all reality, it’s the whole crowd. As De Schutter suggests in his article, “does this mean that democracy has failed, and must be sacrificed for authoritarian solutions?”. While it may seem that our democratic way of debating and considering things has done little to affect response to climate change, I feel it is still a premature idea to condemn the process altogether just yet.
The idea of branding the climate issue as a human rights issue thus stems from this, as these rights are global, powerful and upheld by almost every country on the planet, although there is plenty of scope for local tweaks and bending of the rules for evil. However, in a broad sense, De Schutter believes it will bring about a hyper-democratic approach, as climate change affects all those other human rights in which so many depend upon - water, food, electricity, sanitation and development.
If climate change is to be included in the future law, judicial bodies and global entities will be forced to act on carbon emissions, deforestation, ecosystem destruction and climate interference to sustain the balance of human rights. Policies and legislation would be immediately required, monitoring and mitigation would have to be set up in those regions of the world where human rights deficits are seen, such as those produced by climate change, and overall the climate issue would be brought to the attention of everyone, not just those with the loudest voices.
It’s a very neat way of bringing the climate debate past the apparently failed democracy of the global convention stage and forcing action upon it by multiple powerful bodies, but I feel there a few issues which have yet to be touched on.
At present, over 1 billion people, that’s effectively 1/7th the global population, is starving and malnourished, suffering water deficits and more, with an even bigger number, close to 2 billion, without any form of electricity. That is an almost unimaginable number of people without factors us in the N Hemisphere regard as more than just a human right, but a complete necessity to continue our comfy lives; we even think the Internet is a human right in our neck of the woods.
I could go further, mentioning poverty, crime and drug abuse, but that isn’t the main point I’m trying to make. My point is this; as it stands, we, as a global community, are failing pretty miserably at keeping even the most basic of human rights fulfilled in many part of the world, where we know full-well that they are suffering deeply, and have known for decades prior. Charities, NGO’s, governments and corporation billionaires have been tackling this issue for most of their lifetimes, and yet there is still so much more to do.
So, and I may be being incredibly pessimistic here (I call it realistic, but that’s in the eye of the beholder), to brand one more issue as a human rights issue, when we have so many to be dealing with currently, to me seems potentially disastrous. It’s highly unlikely, given the incomplete knowledge we have of climate change and the uncertainty from much of the population over human influence, that we will be able to solve it much better by tagging human rights to it.
However, there’s always a silver lining. Considering that climate change has the ever-present potential to directly effect all of the above rights issues, maybe combining them all under the umbrella of climate may actually stimulate action which will be able to finally start the ball rolling on bringing cheap, clean development to all parts of the globe.