Climate Change as a Rights and Development Priority

The report of the Fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007), the 2007-2008 Human Development Report (UNDP, 2007), and Stern (2006) underscore that we are on the verge of a disaster of cataclysmic proportions with profound implications for human development and the well-being of the planet and its ecosystems. Sea levels are set to rise along with increasing temperatures, glaciers are melting, and the global hydrological cycle will be radically altered. Weather patterns will become more extreme, and food security will be imperiled around the globe. As the Human Development Report exhorts:

How the world deals with climate change today will have a direct bearing on the human development prospects of a large section of humanity. Failure will consign the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population—some 2.6 billion people—to a future of diminished opportunity. It will exacerbate deep inequalities within countries and it will undermine efforts to build a more inclusive pattern of globalization and development, reinforcing the vast disparities between the “haves" and the “have nots." (UNDP, 2007, p. 2)

A human rights-centered vision of “progress" implies that we cannot choose between poverty alleviation, adaptation to climate change, and access to critical environmental goods and services such as water, food, and energy. These needs and rights are interlinked; they are all ultimately part of what we refer to as “development." To quote Rae (2008):

The full realization of the right to food therefore depends on parallel achievements in the field of health, education, and access to resources. Although each right is worthy of achievement in itself, each has an instrumental value in that different types of rights reinforce each other, and respect for one category may be essential to achieving another. (p. 17)

In the case of women’s rights, we can readily see how intimately these needs and rights are linked, and we know from women’s lives that unless a holistic approach is taken, the rights they are entitled to will not reach them. It is also important to note that states that are party to the different United Nations international covenants and agreements are obliged to implement the rights these enshrine in a timely manner.

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