United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Kyung-wha Kang to the Human Rights Council Side event on “Perspectives on Human Rights and Climate Change”

Geneva, 13 September 2011

Distinguished Panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very honored to take part in this event co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Ireland and the Republic of the Maldives and to be in the company of H.E. President Nasheed,   Ms. Mary Robinson, our former High Commissioner, and Dr. Humphreys – three leading voices who have spearheaded our collective journey to craft the human rights response to climate change.  My intervention will be very short and I hope to learn much from my co-panellists.  Climate change    is the issue of our times and we are increasingly feeling the effects through more devastating natural disasters, such as landslides, draughts, floods and hurricanes; and we are also anxious seeing the long-term threats in gradual degradation of the environment. 

The adverse effects of climate change can already be felt in many areas with direct negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights, such as in agriculture and food security; biodiversity and ecosystems; water resources; human health; human settlements and migration patterns; energy, transport and industry.  The various themes that have been put on the table for today’s discussion illustrate the breadth and enormity of the tasks that lie ahead of us, as we strive to put human rights at the center stage in the policy response to climate change.  

Let me briefly mention what the Human Rights Council has done thus far.  In resolution 7/23 of 28 March 2008, the Council recognized that “climate change-related impacts have a range of implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of human rights.”  Furthermore in resolution 10/4 of 25 March 2009, it affirmed that “human rights obligations and commitments have the potential to inform and strengthen international and national policy making in the area of climate change,” thereby reminding us of the importance of applying a human rights-based approach to the global response to the crisis.

The Human Rights Council mandated OHCHR to conduct an analytical study on the relationship between human rights and climate change which is contained in document A/HRC/10/61 and was presented to the Council at its session in March 2009.   The study prepared by the  Office highlighted the striking “climate injustice” that many of the least developed countries and small island States which have contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions, will be worst affected by global warming, pointed out that these countries are vulnerable due to their low capacity to effectively adapt to climate change, and underlined the need for international cooperation to address the unequal burden falling on those who are least able to carry its weight.

The study noted that climate change cannot be considered simply in terms of environmental and economic aspects. It provided an analysis of the specific rights most directly affected by the climate change-related impacts as detailed in the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.   In particular, the study highlighted the implications of climate change for the rights to life, to food, to safe and adequate drinking water, to health and adequate housing.

The study stressed that the linkages between human rights and the adverse impacts of climate change must be examined, and then made to inform and deepen policy planning regarding prevention, mitigation and adaptation both at international and local levels.

The study confirmed that the human rights perspective, premised on the right of everyone to a dignified life and on the need to combat inequality and discrimination, is particularly suited to analysing not just how climate change affects people but also how it affects them differently, and thus policy responses need to be fully reflective of such differences.  The human rights perspective also underlines the importance of empowerment. Measures to ensure such basic human rights, as access to information, participation in decision-making processes, and access to education, health services and adequate housing, are all important for reducing the vulnerability of individuals to climate change threats.  

Certain groups, such as women, children and indigenous peoples, are more exposed to climate change effects and risks.

Women are susceptible to gender-based violence during natural disasters and during migration, and girls are more likely than boys to be denied their right to education when households come under additional stress.  Rural women are particularly affected by effects on agriculture and deteriorating living conditions in rural areas.  Women make up most of the world’s farmers and produce more than half of the world’s food, so their knowledge and capacity are crucial for successful climate change adaption.  But these women often suffer under discriminatory laws and practices such as unequal rights to property and difficulties in accessing information and financial services. Their rights are being violated, and they are made particularly vulnerable to detrimental effects of climate change. There is much work to be done to devise policies and measures to empower women, to address discriminatory practices, and to  increase the capacity of communities to cope with extreme weather events.

In this regard, it is important to note that in the context of negotiations on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), States have highlighted gender specific vulnerability assessments as important elements in determining adaptation options.  Yet there is a general lack of accurate data disaggregated by gender in this area, and thereby the rights-based approach to mitigation and adaptation continues to be an uphill struggle.  But we remain undaunted.

In preparation for COP17 to be held in Durban in Nov/Dec 2011, OHCHR is actively contributing to inter-agency collaboration and hoping to further elaborate and clarify the linkages between human rights and climate change in a manner that is compelling and meaningful.

I am sure the discussion today will greatly assist us in this endeavor and also to further enrich the engagement of the Human Rights Council on this urgent issue of our times.