(TMU) — You can forget the impact that education, charity, and getting out the vote may have on the future of humankind.
Instead, the real determining factor impacting our rights to life, water, shelter, and food will be dictated by global climate conditions, according to a United Nations human rights expert.
The new report by Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, lays out a stark warning over the devastating consequences faced by the vast majority of the world’s population in the years ahead.
And if the current state of affairs is any indicator, the world is looking at a future of “climate apartheid” where the poor get poorer—and suffer the horrific consequences of climate change including war and displacement—while the wealthy are able to escape hunger, conflict and the scorching conditions and extreme weather events lying ahead.
The report begins in an alarming enough fashion:
“Even under the best-case scenario, hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease, and death.
Climate change threatens the future of human rights and risks undoing the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.”
The report on climate change and poverty will be formally presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, where Alston will deliver the devastating conclusion of his report:
“Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”
Alston stressed that while those in poverty will bear the heaviest burden due to climate change, they won’t be the only victims of the coming “full-blown crisis [that] bears down on the world.” Noting that human rights groups have failed to grapple with the gravity of what’s to come, Alston noted that “business as usual is a response that invites disaster.”
Continuing, Alston explains how global society has ignored the fast-approaching climate catastrophe for far too long, with even the well-intentioned efforts of countries, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the U.N. itself being “patently inadequate” in dealing with the “urgency and magnitude of the threat.”
“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.”
Developing nations bear an estimated 75 percent of the cost of climate change, the report noted, in spite of the fact that the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population cause a mere 10 percent of carbon emissions. The report continued:
“Perversely, the richest, who have the greatest capacity to adapt and are responsible for and have benefitted from the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, will be the best placed to cope with climate change, while the poorest, who have contributed the least to emissions and have the least capacity to react, will be the most harmed.”
“Yet States have marched past every scientific warning and threshold, and what was once considered catastrophic warming now seems like a best-case scenario,” Alston added.
My new report on #ClimateChange and poverty is out today. It finds that climate change will have the greatest impact on those living in poverty, but also poses dire threats to democracy and human rights that most actors have barely begun to grapple with: https://t.co/4CDnAl4uHg pic.twitter.com/nNZ13iM4EE
— Philip Alston (@Alston_UNSR) June 25, 2019
And even if those best-case forecasts are fulfilled, by 2100 extreme temperatures throughout the globe will leave many regions afflicted with lost income, food insecurity and precarious health. Whole populations in some regions will be faced with the horrific choice between starvation or migration—and the inevitable climate exoduses from affected regions will likely lead to right-wing and fascistic blowback from some populations.
The report said:
“Yet democracy and the rule of law, as well as a wide range of civil and political rights are every bit at risk … The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex.”
The climate crisis will likely increase yawning gaps and divisions within society, Alston added, explaining:
“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
The report strongly condemns U.S. President Donald Trump for “actively silencing and obfuscating climate science” while placing former oil industry lobbyists in oversight roles and aggressively rolling back environmental regulations. It also criticizes Trump ally and far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for opening up the Amazon rainforest to unprecedented levels of mining and logging. And while the report compliments China for moving to end its reliance on coal, it notes that it continues to export coal-fired power plants abroad while failing to implement its own domestic methane emission regulations.
And as the looming catastrophe approaches, governments have continued to maintain “the current course,” which is “a recipe for economic catastrophe.”
“Economic prosperity and environmental sustainability are fully compatible but require decoupling economic well-being and poverty reduction from fossil fuel emissions,” Alston said.
Concluding, Alston noted that robust human rights-centered policies from the local level upwards will be needed to support displaced workers, ensure decent jobs, and protect people’s all-around rights. Calling for profound changes in society, the special rapporteur said:
“Climate change will require deep structural changes in the world economy … A robust social safety net will be the best response to the unavoidable harms that climate change will bring … This crisis should be a catalyst for states to fulfill long ignored and overlooked economic and social rights, including to social security and access to food, healthcare, shelter, and decent work.”
Alston also warns against market-based “solutions” that primarily benefit the private sector, noting that for-profit efforts will merely ensure that the wealthy are catered to, the poor are left behind, and human rights are violated on a massive scale. Alston said:
“If climate change is used to justify business-friendly policies and widespread privatization, exploitation of natural resources and global warming may be accelerated rather than prevented.”
In a press release from Alston’s office, the special rapporteur noted that if his report seems extreme, it’s only because of the extreme nature of the threat we all face:
“There is no shortage of alarm bells ringing over climate change, and an increase in biblical-level extreme weather events appear to be finally piercing through the noise, misinformation, and complacency, but these positive signs are no reason for contentment.
A reckoning with the scale of the change that is needed is just the first step.”