In focus

Climate change and human rights

A man standing on the ruins of a school that was hit by a cyclone in May 2008 in Myanmar.

When climate change is discussed at the in­ter­national level, two themes usually come to the fore: first of all, the reduction of emissions that are harmful to the climate, and secondly adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

Until now, these debates have focused far too little on the dramatic personal consequences for people who lose their livelihoods as a result of flooding, drought or storms, and are forced to leave their property or even their homeland. Very many people are threatened by the impacts of global warming. It is estimated that over the next few decades between 150 million and one billion people may be forced to flee or relocate due to en­vi­ron­ment­al changes or natural disasters caused by climate change. It is already clear that the poorest sections of the popu­la­tion in the poor coun­tries of the South are being hit disproportionately hard by climate change.

In conjunction with this human rights are being violated – especially the right to maintain a sus­tain­able livelihood, as well as rights to appropriate shelter, food, water supply and sanitation, health, and in extreme cases the right to life. Yet political and civil rights are also affected. Moreover, the people affected have barely any means to demand that their human rights be respected, protected and fulfilled.

De­vel­op­ment policy must respond

Given the enormous human dimension of the problem, in­ter­national de­vel­op­ment policy – and therefore German de­vel­op­ment policy – must strengthen its focus on protecting human rights in the context of climate change.

"Gender-specific challenges and responses to climate change" was one of four thematic priorities of the De­vel­op­ment Policy Action Plan on Gender 2009-2012 published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (BMZ). Furthermore, the BMZ has supported three studies that raise public awareness of the human rights dimension of climate change, and help advance the in­ter­national de­vel­op­ment debate:

  • In 2008 a study conducted by the In­ter­national Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP) investigated the link between climate change and human rights. This study serves as a basis for discussion among the donor coun­tries.
  • A handbook published by the in­ter­national non-governmental organisation Displacement Solutions documents the initial lessons learned from preventive measures in the Pacific region, from which other affected coun­tries and regions can learn. Moreover, this study identifies specific options for donors to develop solutions to climate change that are sensitive to human rights concerns.
  • A document published by the GIZ describes the significance of climate change for indigenous peoples, and explains the positions of the indigenous groups when negotiating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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