Impact Of Climate Change On Human Rights

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Climate change is a hot topic of discussion today. Its impact is putting the existence of living species at risk. Who should be responsible to mitigate this emergency? In the last couple of years, millions of young people, mostly the school-goers and university students, are leading a movement on climate issue. A young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has become a house-hold name. She is appealing the global leaders to make the earth a better place to live in asking them for stronger action on climate change. She has been a role model for people to fight for climate justice. Millions of youths across the world have shown solidarity to Thunberg in her battle against what she describes as the reckless behaviours of the leaders in the rich countries. 

The rising temperature, extreme weather events, the rise of sea level, melting glaciers, dying species, desertification, reduced land productivity, hunger, deaths, migration and displacement are some of the irreversible consequences of climate change. The burning of the fossil fuel is the key driver of this crisis. Maximum consumption of coal, gas and petroleum fuels is increasing the emission of carbon and other poisonous gases in the atmosphere.  

Urgent actions

Climate change is human rights crisis since it threatens exercising of our rights and increases discrimination and inequalities in the society. The problem of climate change demands urgent actions to address future uncertainty. General people therefore need to understand the grave consequences of climate change and should start asking politicians to show sensitivity and undertake concrete measures to formulate appropriate policies and implement them to reduce carbon emissions. Business houses and corporations should stop thinking only about profits. They need to think about the well-being of the planet's ecosystem and healthy living conditions.

Climate change has become a self-induced curse and it is deteriorating the dignity of human beings. Hence, climate change ultimately leads to a situation in which people's rights will be disproportionally affected. For all these ill consequences, there are some who should be more responsible than others. And here lies the crux of the climate justice. All the people and all the living species on the planet will have to bear the consequences of climate change which is mostly the doing of a handful of powerful and wealthy people of the world. The direct victims of this are poor people like us living in the least developed and developing countries. 

People's fundamental rights including the right to life, food, housing, water, health, sanitation, and adequate standard of living, among others, are being endangered every single day due to climate change. As the global political leadership has failed to solve the problems associated with climate emergency, rights-based movements are trending for rights of the climate victims. As parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, nations are required to undertake measures to tackle these grave issues. 

Nepal lies in the mountainous range in South Asia, also known as the Third Pole, and between the two giant greenhouse gas emitters. The pollution handling mechanism is ineffective and there is a very limited understanding of the issues of climate change. Some may ask whether the issue of climate change is a relevant topic in our context. The reality is that Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of climate change impacts. The issue of climate change has not yet been a matter of priority in Nepal. The political leaders are seen too busy only to talk about physical infrastructure development which are often environmentally insensitive with low safety standards and even lower degree of environmental impact assessment. 

According to a report of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) entitled "Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Climate change, Sustainability and People", even in the best-case scenario, the Himalayan mountains will lose one-third of ice by the end of the century. But this will only happen, if the global average temperature is limited at 1.5 Degrees Celsius increase above pre-industrial level. But looking at the current emission trends, two-thirds of the mountain ice will be melted by the end of the century. The rate of warming in mountains is greater than global average. With increasing risks of glacial lake outbursts, many people in the river basin and downstream areas are prone to natural disasters and forced displacement. 

Glacial lake outburst flood is one of the major consequences of climate change in Nepal. It impacts the right to life, housing and livelihoods. The guarantee of right to housing as a fundamental right under the constitution of Nepal should not be undermined while talking about the issue of climate crisis. Similarly, climate change destroys mountain ecosystem and infrastructure. It will take a long time to rebuild the infrastructure in the least developed countries like Nepal. Another critical issue of climate change is the issue of food security and food sovereignty.

Food insecurity 

There is a growing trend of food insecurity in Nepal due to climate change. Floods, droughts, landslides and air pollution are increasing. Diseases such as dengue are causing havoc. Mosquitos are making their presence in higher altitudes. The government should take these matters seriously and act towards fulfilling its constitutional obligation of guaranteeing people's right to food, water, sanitation, housing, and health. 

Nepali media should give priority to the coverage of climate change issues. They need to make general people and authorities aware of the issue. They can build pressure on policymakers to frame appropriate plans and policies. The more the delay in doing this, the higher will be the economic loss to the country.  In a nutshell, people from all walks of life need to take action on climate change. Every sector should start to talk about the climate crisis. Everybody needs to express solidarity to address the climate crisis in order to save people and planet immediately. Taking action on climate change cannot be delayed because it is a matter of life or death. 

 (The author is the chair of Amnesty International Nepal.)

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