Failure to act swiftly on climate change risks human rights violation on massive scale

By Amnesty International India
London: 8 October 2018 5:40 pm

Amnesty warns that most carbon removal options will also likely violate human rights

With countless people worldwide already suffering the catastrophic effects of floods, heatwaves and droughts aggravated by climate change, governments must commit to much more ambitious emissions reduction targets to limit the global average temperature increase, or bear responsibility for loss of life and other human rights violations and abuses on an unprecedented scale, Amnesty International said today.

A new study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released today, shows that keeping global warming below 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels could still curb the worst human rights impacts of climate change. If emissions continue at their present rate, we are predicted to exceed 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, and hit 3°C by the end of this century.

“The IPCC report makes for grim reading but it does not give world leaders the luxury of pretending it’s already too late. This study makes clear that, while a global temperature increase of 1.5°C will have dramatic and devastating effects, an increase of 2°C would change our world beyond recognition. There is still time to avert the worst-case scenario,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“The world has already passed 1°C of warming, and we’ve seen the suffering this has contributed to – from killer heatwaves across the Northern hemisphere to destructive cyclones sweeping South East Asia. The IPCC report makes clear that a 1.5°C target should no longer be an aspiration, it is an absolute must, and the best we can hope for if we have any chance of protecting human rights in the coming years.”

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement 197 countries agreed a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

The IPCC study sets out the massive differences between the 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios. For example, it predicts that by 2100, sea level rise would be around 0.1 m lower with a 1.5°C scenario compared to 2°C, and that this would mean approximately 10 million fewer people are expected to be exposed to related risks, such as flooding-related deaths and displacement.

As well as calling on states to adopt climate mitigation measures that would limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, Amnesty International is urging governments to avoid or reduce reliance on carbon removal mechanisms. Technologies that are currently available would almost certainly have their own harmful impacts on human rights. Biofuels with carbon capture and storage systems (BECCS), for example, require huge amounts of land and water, with the likelihood of accompanying forced evictions, food and water shortages and price increases, among other pitfalls.

The IPCC report explains that faster emission reductions, among other measures, are needed in order to limit dependence on carbon removal and avoid BECCS.

“Allowing emissions to spike and then expecting people who are already marginalized to suffer further in order to reverse the damage is a lazy and unsustainable option. As usual, it will be the most disadvantaged who will pay the price for the greed and myopia of wealthy governments,” said Kumi Naidoo.

Climate change mitigation measures that have not been human rights compliant have already resulted in violations. For example, in May 2018 Amnesty International documented how the Sengwer Indigenous people of Embobut Forest, Kenya were forced from their homes, sometimes with deadly force, and dispossessed of their ancestral lands as a result of a government drive to reduce deforestation. The government accuses the Sengwer of harming the forest, but has not provided any evidence for that claim.

Such projects should always be subject to human rights impact assessments before going ahead in order to accurately assess the potential harm.

“Protecting human rights and protecting the planet go hand in hand, and this means working to prevent emissions before they happen,” said Kumi Naidoo.

“Governments should be putting all their efforts into greater emission reductions as urgently as possible, consistent with human rights, in order to avoid the worst impacts of both climate change and the most dangerous carbon removal strategies.”

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