Climate change, poverty and human rights: an emergency without precedent

Climate change, poverty and human rights: an emergency without precedent

Julia Aylen wades through waist-deep water carrying her pet dog as she is rescued during Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Bahamas. , AP Photo/Tim Aylen


 Hurricane Dorian has devastated communities in the Bahamas, putting the human dimensions of climate change at the forefront of the news as the world grapples with the ongoing failure of many governments to effectively decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Two recently released climate reports by the United Nations Human Rights Council provide insights into future challenges. 

The July 2019 Safe Climate report by David Boyd, the special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, clarifies the obligations of states to protect human rights from climate harms. The report also confirms the existing responsibility of businesses to respect human rights, especially as they pertain to climate change.

An earlier report on climate change and poverty, released in June 2019, was written by Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. This report draws attention to the disproportionate and devastating impact of unmitigated climate change on those living in poverty.

Both reports point out that urgent action is needed by governments. Our research suggests that international human rights law may already offer useful tools to prevent and remedy climate injustice, including the responsibilities of business enterprises as reinforced in the Boyd report. Read More