Introduction: human rights and climate change  pp. 1-34

Introduction: human rights and climate change

By Stephen Humphreys

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Two starting points inform this collection of articles on human rights and climate change. The first is that, as a matter of simple observation, climate change will undermine – indeed, is already undermining – the realisation of a broad range of internationally protected human rights: rights to health and even life; rights to food, water, shelter and property; rights associated with livelihood and culture; with migration and resettlement; and with personal security in the event of conflict. Few dispute that this is the case.

Moreover, the interlinkages are deep and complex. The worst effects of climate change are likely to be felt by those individuals and groups whose rights protections are already precarious. This is partly coincidence. As it happens, the most dramatic impacts of climate change are expected to occur (and are already being experienced) in the world's poorest countries, where rights protections are too often weak for a variety of reasons. But the effect is also causal and mutually reinforcing. Populations whose rights are poorly protected are likely to be less well-equipped to understand or prepare for the effects of climate change, less able to lobby effectively for government or international action and more likely to lack the resources needed to adapt to expected alterations in their environmental and economic situation. A vicious circle links precarious access to natural resources, poor physical infrastructure, weak rights protections and vulnerability to climate change-related harms.

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