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September 12, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

Climate Change and Human Rights

Ali Arab

Among the many challenges of the global climate change, an important issue is the negative impacts of climate change on human rights. Climate change is expected to have severe consequences for disadvantaged communities due to increasing extreme weather events, see-level rise, droughts, clean water shortage, spread of vector-borne infectious diseases, among others. In particular, climate change may disproportionately impact members of communities with certain geographical characteristics (e.g. coastal areas, arid areas), communities affected by poverty, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, and immigrants. Specifically, climate change is believed to adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and development.

In 2009, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) formally recognized the potential impacts of climate change on human rights. In a key message, OHCHR highlighted the essential obligations and responsibilities of States and other duty-bearers (including businesses) to mitigate or possibly prevent climate change and its adverse effects on human rights. 

Recently, a group of scientists and human rights advocates discussed the human rights implications of climate change during a meeting of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. In particular, the needs of communities displaced by climate change were discussed. It is expected that many individuals and communities will become subject to forced displacement and resettlement due to sea level rise, extreme weather events, and food and water scarcity due to climate change.

Future leaders must recognize the implications of climate change on human rights, and while promoting a culture of conservation and environmentally sustainable strategies to reduce the anthropogenic impacts on the global environment, they should work diligently to address inequalities in the world such as inequalities and discriminations in access to health care, food, clean water, and education. To this end, science and education play an important role in informing future leaders regarding the multifaceted challenges of global climate change, as well as informing individuals and communities about climate change and its impact on their rights. Moreover, scientific research projects should be directed to effectively identify, respond, and possibly prevent the adverse consequences of climate change in local and global communities. These research endeavors are often multidisciplinary in nature and require substantial monetary and intellectual resources. Thus, these efforts should be supported by inter- and intra-governmental entities in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, and higher education and research institutions, as well as the private sector. Additionally, engaging communities in climate change research through community-based research and citizen science projects is an effective approach to address the global climate change, and it also allows for developing strategies that are in line with the cultural norms and the important necessities of the local communities.

Ali Arab is an associate professor of statistics in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Georgetown University. His research interest is in statistical modeling for problems related to the environment and climate change, ecology, epidemiology, and human rights. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA.

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