The U.N. Human Rights Council has begun its annual session in Geneva, and in an opening address Monday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warned that climate change and pollution pose grave threats to human rights and humanity itself.
The U.N. rights chief says human inaction in the face of planetary disasters is having a severe impact on a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, health and even life itself.
Michele Bachelet says extreme and murderous climate events have been unleashed on people in every region in recent months.
“Monumental fires in Siberia and California; huge sudden floods in China, Germany and Turkey; Arctic heatwaves leading to unprecedented methane emissions; and the persistence of interminable drought, from Morocco and Senegal to Siberia, potentially forcing millions of people into misery, hunger, and displacement," Bachelet said.
Bachelet warns intensifying environmental threats constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights. She says environmental disasters amplify conflicts, tensions, increase vulnerabilities, and structural inequalities around the world.
For example, she notes the humanitarian emergency in Africa’s Sahel countries is being fueled by climate change. She says long droughts followed by flash floods, unequal access to natural resources, and high rates of youth unemployment are plaguing the region.
“These trends compel people into displacement, aggravate conflicts and political instability, and fuel recruitment by violent extremist groups," Bachelet said. "In such a situation it should be clear that there can be no purely military solution to the conflicts in the region. To date, four million people across the Sahel have been displaced, according to UNHCR estimates.”
Bachelet says similar trends and challenges exist in different forms and to varying degrees in all regions of the world. For example, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa are gripped by water shortages causing tensions to rise over this scarce resource.
She reports climate change is having a striking impact on poverty, displacement and fundamental human rights in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. She says environmental and human rights defenders are being threatened, harassed, and even killed, often with complete impunity, in Latin America, South-East Asia and other regions.
The U.N. rights chief says a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is the foundation of human life. She adds the future of humanity depends on governments acting to preserve the world’s precious resources.