Fact sheet Human Rights and Climate Change and the by jasonpeters

VIEWS: 6 PAGES: 3

									Fact sheet:
Human Rights and Climate
Change and the Environment


Human rights provide a powerful point of reference for identifying and addressing some of the issues faced by
people in relation to climate change and the environment in Australia. This fact sheet outlines some of the
human rights that are of most relevance to climate change and the environment and explores the gaps that
currently exist in legal protection of those rights in Australia.

Under international law, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR),
Australia has committed to implementing laws to protect, respect and promote the economic, social and cultural
rights of all persons. Australia has a responsibility under international law to take action to remedy the direct and
indirect threats to human rights posed by climate change.Despite this commitment, there is insufficient regulation
of the environment and climate change to ensure compliance with international law.

Some Human Rights that are Relevant to Climate Change and the Environment

The Right to Life

Under international law, all people are entitled to the right to life.1

Issues:
    • Climate change is predicted to threaten the right to life both directly and indirectly.2 The effect may be
        immediate, as in the aftermath of climate-change induced extreme weather, or may appear gradually, as
        deterioration in health, diminishing access to safe drinking water and susceptibility to disease increases.3
    • The current Australian Government has recognised4 that climate change, being the predicted
        consequences of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere,5 is most likely
        human-induced6 and is a global problem requiring a global solution.7 As a result of this it has pledged to
        take action to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change which cannot be
        avoided, and help shape a global solution to climate change ‘that both protects the planet and advances
        Australia’s long-term interests’.8
    • The current Australian Government took the first key step in addressing climate change, and thus
        indirectly protected the right to life, by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in December 2007. Although this
        committed Australia to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent (compared to 1990 emissions)
        by 2020, fossil fuel emissions and carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase.
    • Although Australia has implemented various pieces of State and Commonwealth legislation which
        promote the protection of the environment, there are many aspects of legislation and policy that do not
        sufficiently protect the right to life by failing to adequately address climate change. For the most part,
        climate change continues to be viewed primarily through an ecological or economic lens, with the social
        and human rights implications of climate change receiving little recognition.9


1
  ICCPR, Article 6
2
  HREOC, Background Paper: Human Rights and Climate Change (2008). Available at
http://www.hreoc.gov.au/about/media/papers/hrandclimate_change.html
3
  Ibid.
4
  See Garnaut Climate Change Review, Commonwealth of Australia, Draft Report (2008).
5
  For further discussion of the definition of climate change and the role of greenhouse gas emissions, see ibid 53–9.
6                                                                                                                          th
  This has also recognised by the Human Rights Council in Resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change, UN HRC Res 7/23, 7 sess,
   st
41 mtg, UN Doc A/HRC/RES/7/23 (2008), citing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, United Nations, Fourth Assessment Report
(AR4) (2007). See also Garnaut Climate Change Review, above n 4 , ch 3.
7                                                                                    th       st
  See also Resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change, UN HRC Res 7/23, 7 sess, 41 mtg, UN Doc A/HRC/RES/7/23 (2008).
8
  Department of Climate Change, Australian Government, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme: Green Paper (2008) 8.
9
  John von Doussa, “Climate Change and Human Rights” in InSight, Centre for Policy Development, June, (2008). Available at
http://cpd.org.au/article/climate-change-and-human-rights
The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living and Health

All people have the right to an adequate standard of living, which includes the right to adequate food, water,
clothing and housing.10 People also have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental
health.11

Issues:
    • There is little doubt that climate change will have a detrimental impact on the right to an adequate
        standard of living and health.12
    • Climate change will detrimentally affect the right to food in a significant way. Regional food production is
        likely to decline because of increased temperatures accelerating grain sterility; shifts in rainfall patterns
        rendering previously productive land infertile, accelerating erosion, desertification and reducing crop and
        livestock yields; rising sea levels making coastal land unusable and causing fish species to migrate; and
        an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events disrupting agriculture.13 For example, in
        Australia, up to 20% more droughts are expected by 2030 and up to 80% more droughts by 2070 in
        south-Western Australia.14
    • Climate change will also impact on the right to water.15 As the earth gets warmer, heat waves and water
        shortages will make it difficult to access safe drinking water and sanitation.16 Declining precipitation in
        Australian water catchments is already creating competition between stakeholders over the appropriate
        use and sharing of remaining water.17 Although the Australian Government has partially addressed this
        issue by implementing legislation that promotes environmental conservation, there is currently no
        legislation which ensures the sustainable use of many of Australia's natural resources.
    • Climate change also poses significant risks to the right to health. Climate change will affect the intensity
        of a wide range of diseases: vector-borne, water-borne and respiratory,18 and in Australia, there is a risk
        that the range and spread of tropical diseases and pests will increase. 19 For example, a warmer climate
        will provide a more hospitable environment for disease carrying mosquitoes.

Climate Change and Indigenous Australians

Under international law, all people in Australia, including Indigenous Australians, have the right to practice and
freely determine their cultural practices, customs and institutions.20 Further, all people are entitled to attain and
enjoy the full range of their civil and political rights, without discrimination of any kind, including discrimination on
the ground of race, religion, political opinion or national origin.21

Issues:
    • Indigenous Australians will be disproportionately affected by climate change as it poses a danger to the
        very survival of their communities.22
    • It has been predicted that as a result of climate change, more than 100,000 people in northern
        Aboriginal communities will face serious health risks from malaria, dengue fever and heat stress, as well
10
   ICESCR Article 11
11
   ICESCR Article 12
12
   HREOC, Background Paper: Human Rights and Climate Change (2008).
13
   Alan Dupont and Graeme Pearman, Heating up the Planet: climate change and security (Lowy Institute Paper 12, 2006) at pp. 30-31.
Available at: http://www.lowyinstitute.org/Publication.asp?pid=391
14
   IPCC, ‘Chapter 11 – Australia and New Zealand’, in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – Contribution of
Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) at p. 515. Available at:
http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter11.pdf
15
   Although this right is not expressly articulated in the ICESCR, the right to water is intricately related to the preservation of a number of
rights; underpinning the right to health in article 12 and the right to food in article 11. The right to water is also specifically articulated in the
article 24 of the CRC and article 14(2)(h) of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Furthermore, in
2002 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognised that water itself was an independent right.
16
    HREOC, Background Paper: Human Rights and Climate Change (2008).
17
   Dupont and Graeme Pearman, Heating up the Planet: climate change and security (2007) at pg 35.
18
   Working Group on Climate Change, Up in Smoke – Asia and the Pacific (November 2007) at p. 6. Available at:
http://www.iied.org/pubs/pdfs/10020IIED.pdf
19
   Rory Sullivan, Australia Country Study (Background Paper for the UNDP Human Development Report 2007/08, 2008) at p. 1. Available at:
http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2007-2008/papers/sullivan_rory_australia.pdf
20
   See ICCPR Article 1, 18, 19 and 20.
21
   ICCPR Articles 2 and 26.
22
   Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Climate Change: An Overview (November 2007) at p. 4.
Available at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/Climate_change_overview.doc
         as loss of food sources from floods, drought and more intense bushfires.23 The economic and health
         status of remote indigenous communities is also likely to worsen as a result of climate change.24
     •   Further, as Australian indigenous culture has an intrinsic link to land,25 the right to participate in and to
         strengthen indigenous cultural life is directly threatened by the impacts of climate change which will have
         a detrimental impact on the health of the land.26

Does Australia’s policy in relation to the Environment and Climate Change protect human rights?

Under international law, Australia has a duty to take positive measures to ensure all people enjoy the full range
of their human rights. Currently, many of these rights are either not protected or are inadequately protected by
Australian law. The existing legal framework does not address many of the important human rights issues that
are relevant to the environment and climate change in Australia and, if allowed to manifest, climate change has
the potential to exacerbate existing threats to human rights, increasing people’s vulnerability to poverty and
social deprivation.27 Further, populations whose rights are poorly protected in Australia28 are likely to be less
equipped to adapt to climate change effects.29

How Can Human Rights in Australia be Protected in relation to the Environment and Climate Change?

Without policies and legislation that adequately and comprehensively deal with environmental threats such as
climate change, the rights to life and to a reasonable standard of living are not being sufficiently protected in
Australia. In order to uphold its international human rights obligations, the Australian government must respond
to the impacts of climate change. It must use all means available to it to prevent and address the threats to
human rights that result from climate change and to provide access to remedies when these rights are violated.30
A National Human Rights Act would bring Australia’s laws into line with international standards and would
provide a comprehensive framework for protecting and promoting the human rights of people in relation to the
environment and climate change.

Make a submission to the National Human Rights Consultation to tell them about what rights matter to you at
(http://www.humanrightsconsultation.gov.au/).

Where Can I Get More Information on Human Rights?

•           Human Rights Law Resource Centre
            www.hrlrc.org.au

•           Australian Human Rights Commission
            http://www.hreoc.gov.au/

•           National Human Rights Consultation
            http://www.humanrightsconsultation.gov.au/




23
   Friends of the Earth International, Climate Change: voices from communities affected by climate change (November 2007) at p. 5.
Available at: http://www.foei.org/en/publications/pdfs/climate-testimonies.
24
   See Donna Green, Climate Change and Health: Impacts on Remote Indigenous Communities in Northern Australia (CSIRO Marine and
Atmospheric Research Paper 012, November 2006)
25
   Friends of the Earth International, Climate Change: voices from communities affected by climate change (November 2007) at p. 6.
Available at: http://www.foei.org/en/publications/pdfs/climate-testimonies.
26
   See, for example, Donna Green, How Might Climate Change Affect Island Culture in the Torres Strait? (CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric
Research Paper 011, November 2007). Available at: http://www.cmar.csiro.au/e-print/open/greendl_2006a.pdf.
27
   John von Doussa, “Climate Change and Human Rights.”
28
   For example Indigenous Australiansm minority groups, homeless, those living in poverty.
29
   Ibid.
30
    HREOC, Background Paper: Human Rights and Climate Change (2008).

								
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