Climate change undermines human rights

20 June 2024

The accelerating pace of climate change is undermining human rights across the board – including the most basic one of all: the right to life – WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo told a high-level presidential discussion at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“The world celebrated when the UN Human Rights Council passed a landmark resolution in 2021. This confirmed that a healthy environment is a human right. It marked a watershed moment in the fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste,” she said.

“But the time for celebration has passed.”

“The climate crisis is THE defining challenge that humanity faces. It is closely intertwined with the inequality crisis. It has cascading impacts on food security, population displacement and migration, health, energy, water. Every single one of the Sustainable Development Goals is affected,” said Celeste Saulo during the panel discussion.

Sea level rise is threatening the very existence of small island developing states. Heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones undermine multiple human rights – as witnessed by recent and ongoing extreme events, she said.

The event was entitled “The link between climate change, food security and health security, and their impacts on the enjoyment of human rights.” It was convened by the President of the Human Rights Council, Omar Zniber, and included top human rights officials and heads of Geneva-based UN organizations and specialized agencies.  

WMO’s annual State of the Climate reports highlight the socio-economic impacts of climate change and extreme weather, with input from the International Organization, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Programme, World Health Organization and more.

Displacement: Weather and climate change impacts trigger new, prolonged, and secondary displacement. They increase the vulnerability of people who were already uprooted by conflict and violence.

At the end of 2023, almost 3 in 4 forcibly displaced people were living in countries with high-to-extreme exposure to climate-related hazards, according to UNHCR.

Food insecurity is on the increase.

The number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million and people in 2023, according to WFP.

In 2022, 9.2% of the global population, or 735.1 million people, were undernourished. 

Protracted conflicts, economic downturns, high food prices are at the root of high global food insecurity levels. This is aggravated by naturally occurring phenomena like El Niño and La Niña and long-term climate change the effects of climate and weather extremes, she said. 

Climate change is sabotaging people’s health and setting back public health progress. 

This is not the future we want for our children. Our children have the right to live and thrive on a sustainable and healthy planet.

However, there is hope. The transition to renewable energy can improve basic socio-economic rights – the right to development. 

Renewable energy sources are available almost everywhere, making energy access more equitable and allowing countries to develop their economies.  Currently, more than half of Africa people lack the access to electricity, but Africa continent possesses some of the world’s greatest potential for solar power generation. 

Such potential holds the key to alleviate poverty and support socio-economic development.

“We are motivated by the fact that our work has a human dimension. To save human lives and protect human rights,” said Celeste Saulo.