Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The Paris summit on climate change will decide the fate of the planet - Dr Sam Adelman

"The Paris summit on climate change beginning on 30 November may be the most important international conference in history because it will quite literally decide the fate of the planet" says Dr Sam Adelman Associate Professor of Legal Theory and Comparative Human Rights in the University of Warwick School of Law.

"Reflecting the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally warns that the impacts of anthropogenic global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.” In the words of NASA scientist James Hansen, we are facing “a planetary emergency.” in which all human rights will be threatened, including the right to life - the precondition for all other rights. The poor and vulnerable - children, the elderly and the weak – will suffer most, particularly in the least developed countries with few resources and limited resilience and adaptive capacity.

The right to life is threatened by systemic risks from increasingly intense extreme weather events such as tropical storms, flooding, and droughts leading to breakdowns in infrastructure and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services. The IPCC predicts that more intense heatwaves and fires will cause injuries, disease and deaths and fires. Hunger and under-nutrition will grow due to diminished food production in poor regions of the world. The right to health will also be undermined by increased risks from food- and water-borne diseases and the IPCC predicts that vector-borne diseases will increase.

The right to private and family life and the right to culture will be affected as increasing warming puts some ecosystems at risk of abrupt and irreversible changes that will slow economic growth and poverty reduction, erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, particularly in urban areas and emerging hunger hotspots. Tens to hundreds of millions of people will be displaced due to land loss from coastal and inland flooding, which will increase the risks of death, injury, severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and ‘sinking’ small island especially vulnerable to storm surges and rising sea levels.

The right to food will be threatened by the breakdown of food systems due to warming, drought, flooding, and desertification. All aspects of food security will be affected, including access to food and rising prices. Rural livelihoods and income will be threatened by insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions. Water insecurity will affect swathes of sub-Saharan Africa.

The numbers of people displaced by climate change will dwarf current migration trends and force people to migrate in search of survival. Climate change will compromise the right to peace and security by increasing the likelihood of conflicts over food, water and energy. The IPCC predicts that it will indirectly increase “risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, inter-group violence, and violent protests by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

Using human rights to address anthropogenic climate change is necessary because politicians have failed to deal with the problem in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Human rights have successfully been used against injustices like apartheid, racism, gender and sexual discrimination and poverty by highlighting the links between human dignity based on equality and universality and arousing compassion and empathy. Today they are required of fossil fuels is so dangerous to the human rights and wellbeing of the current and future generations that continued extraction of fossil fuels should be treated as a crime against humanity. Using human rights highlights the inextricable connections between the wellbeing of human beings, non-human species and the planet we live on.

The Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) has issued a Draft Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change ahead of the Paris climate summit beginning on 30 November. The Declaration calls on negotiators at the Paris summit to acknowledge the disproportional impacts of climate change on the poor, women, children, the vulnerable, small island communities, less developed countries, future generations, non-human species and living systems. The Declaration states that human rights and a profound commitment to climate justice are interdependent and indivisible. A successful deal in Paris must recognise the right of all to a planetary climate suitable to meet equitably the needs of present generations without impairing the rights of future generations to meet their needs. The GNHRE therefore calls upon governments to reach an agreement the respects the right of all human beings to a secure, healthy and ecologically sound Earth system and to fairness, equity and justice in the provision of climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation."

The Draft Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change can be found here:

Alex Buxton
Communications Manager
Tel: 02476 150423
Mob: 07876 218166