Impact Of Climate Change On Right To Health

Abstract:

With the new IPCC report out, the situation of climate change is evidently alarming and it is believed that mitigating efforts might not even work to save the environment at this point. Through this blog, the author would like to highlight the impact that climate change shall have on the right to health as a human right.

Introduction

The Right to Health has been largely recognized by various international covenants and treaties. Major support has been from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966. The UDHR under Article 25 includes right to health including proper food, water, sanitation, medical care, etc.[1] Further, Article 12 of the ICESCR provides for right to enjoyment of highest standard of physical and mental health.[2] This right was further accepted and implemented in municipal laws of each nation. However, with the advent of climate change, the right to health is at risk as the majority of the population is at the likelihood of extinction.

There have been recognizable changes in the environment in the past few years wherein the earth is becoming warmer than usual. From wildfires to snow caps and glaciers melting, mitigation measures have become more important than ever. Greenland, a cold nation, saw rainfall on its glaciers for the first-time, warning mankind about the consequences of not curbing environmental issues. This is a clear indication that earth is becoming too warm too fast.[3]

There is a need to act as soon as possible or humans might not be able to survive on this planet. Hence, in this blog, the author would like to delve deep into the right to health and the impact of climate change on it.

Impact Of Climate Change On Right To Health

The new IPCC report of 2021 has declared climate change under ‘code red’ which means mitigation efforts cannot be delayed anymore.[4] The report also states that by 2030, there is a possibility of little to no nutrition available.[5] This could lead to people relying on supplements for basic nutrition which they could originally derive from plant-based food. In lieu with the right to health as a human right, climate change shall cause following concerns for the current and next generation if mitigation measures not implemented soon:

  • Water shortage: Due to the effects of climate change, water levels are significantly increasing on parts of the world causing droughts and some are going through extreme droughts. It is predicted that in the near future, more floods and droughts can be expected.[6] Such population would mainly include the low-income groups who do not have proper housing and security.
  • Food security: With shortage of resources and overpopulation, there is a risk of increase in high-risk infectious diseases.[7] The reason behind this, that as population increases, resources are not available to feed everyone.[8] Hence, a large chunk of the population might suffer from nutrition deficiency. This is again a violation of human rights because as per Art 12 of ICESCR and Art 25 of UDHR, right to health includes nutrition.
  • Migration due to extreme weather conditions: With Global Warming, fluctuating and unpredictable water-table levels, and food shortage, the most affected nations would be third world countries. Hence, people from these regions would have to migrate to less affected areas where they can live. According to research, by 2050, over 200 million people would have to flee their homes. They are termed as ‘climate migrants’ or ‘climate refugees’.[9] Hence, this is also a violation to right to health and needs to be acted upon soon.

Global Obligations

Hence, many nations came together to form a global agreement to act upon this issue. Following are the agreements and treaties signed to mitigate climate change:

  1. UNFCCC Paris Agreement:  According to this agreement, State parties must ensure that they have to keep a 2 degrees Celsius limit, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius on global warming.[10] This includes cutting down emissions of greenhouse gases generated from industries and other sectors. Also, each nation must provide an annual report to the UNFCCC.
  2. Kyoto Protocol: Majorly, six greenhouse gases were identified including carbon dioxide and methane which were responsible for greenhouse gases emission. Targets were set to control the use of such gases for each State party separately, so that issues between developed and developing countries could be avoided.[11]
  3. SDG Goals: According to the Paris Agreement, State Parties agreed upon the 17 SDG Goals. Out of those, most relevant to this discussion are goal no. 13 which talks about mitigating climate change;[12] goal no. 12, which discusses about responsible consumption[13]and production; goal no. 6, which states clean water and sanitation;[14] and goal 2 which talks about zero hunger.[15] These goals are specifically in lieu with right to health and hence, achieving these goals have become more important now than ever.

What To Do?

Therefore, climate change is now at the point where the focus should be mitigation. Status quo cannot continue and since, the right to health being a fundamental right, it is imperative that global action is urgently taken. Hence, mankind must come together to take actions such as inter alia, planting more trees; cutting down on greenhouse emissions by reducing Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) products such as Air Conditioners, Refrigerants and others; reducing traffic on roads which degrade the environment further through harmful fumes; treating industrial effluents before releasing them into oceans and other water bodies; and saving the water bodies from harmful pollution.

If mankind does not work upon protecting the environment now, then we are looking into global level extinction wherein the maximum population dead would be people from poor income groups and innocent animals that humans share the planet with. Therefore, it is a call for global action for all human beings to come together and save the planet that sustains life.


[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights art. 25.

[2] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 12.

[3] Joe Hernandez, Rain Fell On The Peak Of Greenland’s Ice Sheet For The First Time in Recorded History, NPR (Aug 20, 2021 11:00 a.m. ET), https://www.npr.org/2021/08/20/1029633740/rain-fall-peak-of-greenland-ice-sheet-first-climate-change.

[4] IPCC report: ‘Code red’ for human driven global heating, warns UN chief, UN NEWS (Aug 9, 2021), https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097362.

[5] Id.

[6] Water and Climate Change, UN WATER, https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/climate-change/.

[7] J.A. Patz & S.H. Olson, Climate change and health: global to local influences on disease risk, 100 ANN. TROP. MED. PARASITOL 535 (2006).

[8] Id.

[9] Richard Mahapatra & Akshit Sangomla, Migration out of Climate Change, DOWN TO EARTH (May 22, 2020), https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/migration-out-of-climate-change-71291.

[10] The Paris Agreement, UNFCCC NEWS, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

[11] Kyoto Protocol- Targets for the first commitment period, UNFCCC NEWS, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-kyoto-protocol/what-is-the-kyoto-protocol/kyoto-protocol-targets-for-the-first-commitment-period.

[12] Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, UNITED NATIONS, https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal13.

[13] Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, UNITED NATIONS, https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal12.

[14] Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, UNITED NATIONS, https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal6.

[15] Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, UNITED NATIONS, https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal2.

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