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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