Climate change: the tyranny of today over tomorrow

The human rights law-based approach is a must if we want to fully realize the dangers and cope with climate change.

On 1 June 2017, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, struck at the heart of humankind by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Per his argument, the Accord was “unfair at the highest level to the United States” and will inflict a “major economic wound” to the United States’ economy. Paradoxically, the President referred to his “duty to protect America and its citizens” by taking a major stand against global environment and the health of future generations.

However, President Trump intentionally or unintentionally abstained from invoking any ethical considerations of his own actions. This thus, prevented any potential moral assessment of the decision and its ramifications for Americans and the humankind of today and the future. Moreover, he decided to avoid real engagement with the issue of climate change by perpetuating unreasonable doubt, fake arguments, distraction and even hypocrisy. The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord received reasonable condemnation from the international community and world leaders.

In other words, President Trump promised to fulfill his solemn duty to protect the United States by setting the world on a deadly collision course with disaster, war and insecurity and violation of human rights on a massive scale. Future generations have been condemned to unnecessary suffering, since climate change is not static. Failure to act now makes the issue substantially worse for future generations because global emissions are increasing at rapid rates, inevitably increasing the costs for tackling climate change.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change has been caused predominantly by human production of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The technical summary of the report suggests that during the 21st Century, the global surface temperature is likely to rise an additional 0.3 to 1.7 °C (0.5 to 3.1 °F) for the lowest emissions scenario, and 2.6 to 4.8 °C (4.7 to 8.6 °F) for the highest emissions scenario. These changes will have devastating effects on the environmental and human systems in the form of extreme weather (floods and droughts), sea level rise, social inequality, famine, refugee crisis, etc.

Humankind’s moral imperative to fight climate change

Invoking the ethical considerations in the case of climate change is a must. Only when our actions are open to moral assessment, may we see the devastating impact of climate change on human rights. We can no longer claim ignorance about our obligations to the global environment and about the conditions of extreme poverty in which so many people live nowadays. We can no longer deny the potential human rights catastrophe which will be of epic and irreversible proportions if we do not act in a prompt manner. We can also no longer ignore our responsibility to engage in the state-to-state transfer of environmental burdens.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that we have the right to a “standard of living” that is adequate for our health and well-being. The right to this “standard of living” should be “in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being” according to the first principle of the Stockholm Declaration. The established relationship between our human rights and the environment is incorporated in the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Report on the Relationship between Climate Change and Human Rights. The report analyzes the ramifications of climate change for human rights, the vulnerabilities of specific groups, and the issues of security and displacement caused by global warming.

In light of the above-mentioned, if we do not realize our moral responsibility to act today, climate change will inflict a serious threat to the right to life, because global warming will certainly lead to an increase in infant mortality. Further, global warming will decrease the life expectancy in vulnerable groups caused by the increase of malnutrition and epidemics. Malnutrition and diseases due to climate change jeopardize the lives of billions of people and their right to health since climate change denies these people “access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition, and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions”. The pollution caused by gas emissions, the loss of crop production, ocean degradation, floods, and droughts have negative consequences on the availability and accessibility of food, thus endangering the right to food of millions of people, especially women, children, old men and poor people. The right to water is also jeopardized due to the lack of access to clean drinking water caused by climate change. The right to adequate housing and habitability is endangered due to the lack of protection against extreme weather caused by climate change. Finally, the right to development as an integral part of the realization of human rights is also affected by climate change. These potential violations of human rights will force people from vulnerable groups and developing regions to abandon their living places and homes, thus exacerbating the refugee crisis across the world. Deforestation and desertification caused by global warming and the sea level rise will lead to changes in borders, thus causing violent conflicts, insecurity, and instability in problematic regions.

The ultimate question may be: Are we so susceptible to moral corruption? And are we so obsessed with materialism and materialistic values that we are ready to sacrifice the lives of millions of people today, and the well-being of people in the future? What is more, are we so ethically blind that we cannot see the long-term consequences of our idleness? Our environment is our identity. It has brought us into existence and has conditioned everything we do. It has the power to sustain us, but do we have the power to sustain it?

We strive for better lives, we pursue our career objectives, build economic organizations, and try to protect ourselves; but we are, in fact, destroying ourselves by destroying the environment. We strive for security and stability, but we generate more insecurity and more instability. This is just a reminder to everyone who prioritizes the economy and business over the health of the global environment, which brought us into existence, and can also return us to non-existence.   

EnvironmentHuman RightsOpinion
Zhuliyan Zhelezov

Zhuliyan has obtained a Master’s degree in International Security and Law from the University of Southern Denmark. He has obtained a ‘Master of Laws’ degree from the University of Sofia ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’. He has specialized in counter-terrorism and international criminal justice at the University of Salford (UK). He has also specializations in international law and international relations from the University of Sofia ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’. He works in the field of anti-money laundering and the prevention of the financing of terrorist organizations. His main interests are in the field of contemporary conflicts: terrorism, counter-terrorism, insurgency, counter-insurgency, and hybrid warfare.

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