Preventing Climate Warming a Matter of Human Rights

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 unequivocally confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of climate change. This, it determined would result in extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, food and water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change.

These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.

The Preamble of the Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change makes it clear that all States “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called on States and other duty-bearers (including businesses) to consider their human rights responsibilities in establishing climate change-related agreements, policies, and actions. The OHCHR sets out 10 specific requirements that should be reflected in all climate action (here).

These requirements specify that nations ensure that all persons have the necessary capacity to adapt to climate change, including provision of meaningful and informed participation, accountability and effective remedies for human rights harms caused by climate change. States are to mitigate climate change and to prevent its negative human rights impacts through sustainable, human rights-based development based on equality and non-discrimination. It also recognises the need for international cooperation, provision for everyone of the maximum available resources and benefits of science and its application.

In 2015 by signing the Paris Agreement which governs emission reductions from 2020 on through commitments of countries in Nationally Determined Contributions, lowering the target to 1.5 °C. The convention enjoys broad legitimacy, largely due to its nearly universal membership.

The Climate Council, Australia’s leading climate change communications organisation, advised by some of the country’s leading climate scientists, health, renewable energy and policy experts, says that ‘Australia’s current 2030 greenhouse gas pollution target is weak, and we are not on track to meet it.’ It says that the Federal Government confirms, in its Emissions Projections, that Australia is not on track to meet its ‘woefully inadequate 2030 emissions reduction target.’ Also, our greenhouse gas pollution levels are expected to continue to go up over the next decade, and in 2030 they are expected to be higher than today. Thus, the claim by our Prime Minister that Australia will meet the Paris target “in a canter” is incorrect.

The Federal Government’s own Emissions Projections clearly show Australia is not on track to meet its Paris commitments. The Federal Government has no credible climate policy in place to tackle our rising greenhouse gas pollution.