People's Stories Environment

View previous stories

Action to protect people and nature is more urgent than ever
by UNEP, SEI, IISD, WMO, agencies
Nov. 2023
Fossil Fuel production plans vastly exceed the World’s Climate Goals: ‘Throwing Humanity’s Future into Question’ (UNEP, SEI, IISD, agencies)
The world’s top fossil-fuel producing nations are still planning to increase their output of oil, gas and coal far beyond what the world’s climate targets would allow, according to the Production Gap Report released by the United Nations.
The findings reveal a ever widening gap between the emissions-cutting pledges nations have made and their continued policies to promote fossil fuel production.
Even as a majority of countries have adopted net-zero pledges to cut their climate emissions, their own plans and projections put them on track to extract more than twice the level of fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and nearly 70 percent more than would be consistent with 2 degrees Celsius of warming, according to the report issued by the U.N. Environment Program.
Scientists say that beyond 1.5 degrees of warming, more extreme and dangerous changes to planetary systems become increasingly certain.
This “production gap” between planned output and climate goals is a warning, the report underlines, noting that the transition away from fossil fuels remains way off-course.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the findings “a startling indictment of runaway climate carelessness.”
Inger Andersen, the executive director of U.N. Environment Program, said that “governments’ plans to expand fossil fuel production are undermining the energy transition needed to achieve net-zero emissions, throwing humanity’s future into question.”
The 2023 Production Gap Report: “Phasing down or phasing up? Top fossil fuel producers plan even more extraction despite climate promises” is produced by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Climate Analytics, E3G, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
It assesses governments’ planned and projected production of coal, oil, and gas against global levels consistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.
“Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and the planet,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence. The upcoming climate conference COP28 must send a clear signal that the fossil fuel age is out of gas — that its end is inevitable. We need credible commitments to ramp up renewables, phase out fossil fuels, and boost energy efficiency, while ensuring a just, equitable transition.”
July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded, and likely the hottest for the past 120,000 years, according to climate scientists. Across the globe, deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are costing lives and livelihoods, making clear that human-induced climate change is here. Global carbon dioxide emissions — almost 90% of which come from fossil fuels — rose to record highs in 2021–2022. 
The 2023 Production Gap Report offers newly expanded country profiles for 20 major fossil-fuel-producing countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. These profiles reveal that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy and financial support for fossil fuel production.
“We find that many governments are promoting fossil gas as an essential ‘transition’ fuel but with no apparent plans to transition away from it later,” says Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and SEI scientist. “But science says we must reduce global coal, oil, and gas production and use now — along with scaling up clean energy, reducing methane emissions from all sources, and other climate actions — to keep the 1.5°C goal alive.”
"The writing’s on the wall for fossil fuels. By mid-century we need to have consigned coal to the history books, and cut oil and gas production by at least three quarters. Yet despite their climate promises, governments plan on ploughing yet more money into a dirty, dying industry, while opportunities abound in a flourishing clean energy sector. On top of economic insanity, it is a climate disaster of our own making.” – Neil Grant, Climate and Energy Analyst, Climate Analytics
"Despite governments around the world signing up to ambitious net zero targets, global coal, oil and gas production are all still increasing while planned reductions are nowhere near enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This widening gulf between governments' rhetoric and their actions is not only undermining their authority but increasing the risk to us all. We are already on track this decade to produce 460% more coal, 82% more gas, and 29% more oil than would be in line with the 1.5°C warming target. Ahead of COP28, governments must look to dramatically increase transparency about how they will hit emissions targets and bring in legally binding measures to support these aims." – Angela Picciariello, Senior Researcher, IISD
Nov. 2023
Adaptation Gap Report 2023: Underfinanced. Underprepared - Inadequate investment and planning on climate adaptation leaves world exposed - UN Environment Programme
Progress on climate adaptation is slowing on all fronts when it should be accelerating to catch up with rising climate change impacts and risks, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.
The Adaptation Gap Report 2023 finds that the adaptation finance needs of developing countries are 10-18 times as big as international public finance flows – over 50 per cent higher than the previous range estimate.
"Today’s Adaptation Gap Report shows a growing divide between need and action when it comes to protecting people from climate extremes. Action to protect people and nature is more pressing than ever," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his message on the report. “Lives and livelihoods are being lost and destroyed, with the vulnerable suffering the most.”
"We are in an adaptation emergency. We must act like it. And take steps to close the adaptation gap, now," he added.
As a result of the growing adaptation finance needs and faltering flows, the current adaptation finance gap is now estimated to be US$194-366 billion per year. At the same time, adaptation planning and implementation appear to be plateauing. This failure to adapt has massive implications for losses and damages, particularly for the most vulnerable.
“In 2023, climate change yet again became more disruptive and deadly: temperature records toppled, while storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires caused devastation,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “These intensifying impacts tell us that the world must urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase adaptation efforts to protect vulnerable populations. Neither is happening.”
“Even if the international community were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases today, climate disruption would take decades to dissipate,” she added. “So, I urge policymakers to take heed of the Adaptation Gap Report, step up finance and make COP28 the moment that the world committed fully to protecting low-income countries and disadvantaged groups from damaging climate impacts.”
Finance, planning and implementation waning
The modelled costs of adaptation in developing countries are estimated at US$215 billion per year this decade and are projected to rise significantly by 2050. The adaptation finance needed to implement domestic adaptation priorities, based on extrapolation of costed Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans to all developing countries, is estimated at US$387 billion per year.
Despite these needs, public multilateral and bilateral adaptation finance flows to developing countries declined by 15 per cent to US$21 billion in 2021. This dip comes despite pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow to deliver around US$40 billion per year in adaptation finance support by 2025 and sets a worrying precedent.
While five out of six countries have at least one national adaptation planning instrument, progress to reach full global coverage is slowing. And the number of adaptation actions supported through international climate funds has stagnated for the past decade.
Ambitious adaptation can enhance resilience – which is particularly important for low-income countries and disadvantaged groups – and head off losses and damages.
The report points to a study indicating that the 55 most climate-vulnerable economies alone have experienced losses and damages of more than US$500 billion in the last two decades. These costs will rise steeply in the coming decades, particularly in the absence of forceful mitigation and adaptation.
Studies indicate that every billion invested in adaptation against coastal flooding leads to a US$14 billion reduction in economic damages. Meanwhile, US$16 billion per year invested in agriculture would prevent approximately 78 million people from starving or chronic hunger because of climate impacts.
However, neither the goal of doubling 2019 international finance flows to developing countries by 2025 nor a possible New Collective Quantified Goal for 2030 will significantly close the adaptation finance gap on their own and deliver such benefits.
The report identifies a number of ways to increasing financing, including through implementation of Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement on shifting finance flows towards low-carbon and climate resilient development pathways, and a reform of the global financial architecture, as proposed by the Bridgetown Initiative.
The new loss and damage fund will also be an important instrument to mobilize resources, but issues remain. The fund will need to move towards more innovative financing mechanisms to reach the necessary scale of investment.
Nov. 2023
Drought data shows “an unprecedented emergency on a planetary scale”: UNCCD
Recent drought-related data based on research in the past two years and compiled by the UN point to “an unprecedented emergency on a planetary scale, where the massive impacts of human-induced droughts are only starting to unfold.”
According to the report, ‘Global Drought Snapshot,’ launched by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at the outset of COP28 climate talks in the UAE, few if any hazard claims more lives, causes more economic loss and affects more sectors of societies than drought.
UNCCD is one of three Conventions originated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The other two address climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (UN CBD).
Says UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: “Unlike other disasters that attract media attention, droughts happen silently, often going unnoticed and failing to provoke an immediate public and political response. This silent devastation perpetuates a cycle of neglect, leaving affected populations to bear the burden in isolation.”
“The Global Drought Snapshot report speaks volumes about the urgency of this crisis and building global resilience to it. With the frequency and severity of drought events increasing, as reservoir levels dwindle and crop yields decline, as we continue to lose biological diversity and famines spread, transformational change is needed. We hope this publication serves as a wake-up call.”
2023 State of Climate Services: Health. (WMO)
World Meteorological Organization's annual State of Climate Services report this year focuses on health. It highlights the need for tailored climate information and services to support the health sector in the face of more extreme weather and poor air quality, shifting infectious disease patterns and food and water insecurity.
“Practically the whole planet has experienced heatwaves this year. The onset of El Niño in 2023 will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records further, triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean – and making the challenge even greater,” says WMO Secretary-General, Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“It is clear that by channelling investment and boosting collaboration, there is huge potential to go further and faster by enhancing the impact of climate science and services so that health partners get the support they need at a time when unprecedented changes to our climate are having an increasing impact,” says Prof. Taalas.
The report, which includes input from more than 30 collaborating partners, features case studies from around the world showcasing how integrated climate and health action makes a very real difference in people’s daily life.
“The climate crisis is a health crisis, driving more severe and unpredictable weather events, fuelling disease outbreaks, and contributing to higher rates of noncommunicable diseases,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "By working together to make high-quality climate services more accessible to the health sector, we can help to protect the health and well-being of people facing the perils of climate change."
The number of medium- or large-scale disaster events is projected to reach 560 a year – or 1.5 each day – by 2030. Countries with limited early warning coverage have disaster mortality that is eight times higher than countries with substantial to comprehensive coverage, according to figures cited in the report.
A special section is devoted to extreme heat, which causes the greatest mortality of all extreme weather. However the impacts are underestimated as heat-related mortality could be 30 times higher than what is currently recorded. Heat warning services are provided to health decision makers in only half of the affected countries, but are expected to rapidly increase by 2027 under the international Early Warnings for All initiative.
Between 2000 and 2019, estimated deaths due to heat were approximately 489,000 per year, with a particularly high burden in Asia (45%) and Europe (36%). Extreme heat conditions during the summer of 2022, were estimated to have claimed over 60,000 excess deaths in 35 European countries.
Heatwaves also exacerbate air pollution, which is already responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year and is the fourth biggest killer by health risk factor.
Climate change is exacerbating risks of food insecurity. In 2012-2021, 29% more global land area was affected by extreme drought for at least one month per year than in 1951–1960. The compounding impacts of droughts and heatwave days were associated with 98 million additional people reporting moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020 than annually in 1981–2010, in 103 countries analysed, according to figures cited in the report.
The changing climatic conditions are also enhancing the transmission of many climatically sensitive infectious vector-, food-, and water-borne diseases. For example, dengue is the world’s fastest-spreading vector-borne disease, whilst the length of the malaria transmission season has increased in parts of the world.
Some of the most significant challenges to health are in the nexus of water, food security and nutrition, the nexus of infectious diseases (food-, water-, airborne and vector-borne diseases), and the nexus of extreme weather and air quality, particularly in urban areas, says the report.
Climate change undermines health determinants and increases pressures on health systems threatening to reverse decades of progress to promote human health and well-being, particularly in the most vulnerable communities.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes, with very high confidence, that future health risks from injury, disease, and death will increase due to more intense and frequent temperature extremes, cyclones, storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires.
The world’s most fragile countries are those most impacted by climate change. (WFP)
The world must rapidly scale up protection for vulnerable people on the frontlines of the climate crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) warns, a week before world leaders meet in Dubai for the next UN Climate Summit, COP28. Last year alone, climate extremes pushed 56.8 million people into acute food insecurity.
Many of the world’s most fragile countries are those most impacted by climate change. The climate crisis doesn’t have to be a hunger crisis, but that’s exactly what’s happening. We have a collective duty to protect and support people living on the edge of this growing disaster and we need to do it now, says the World Food Programme.
WFP is calling for immediate support to scale up climate protection for food-insecure communities whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by global warming, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings.
Without decisive and transformational action to protect communities against extreme weather events, the world will see growing hunger, insecurity and displacement.
By strengthening local systems and directing more funding to contexts most at risk, it is possible to better protect local food systems from the worst impacts of climate extremes and avoid prolonged food insecurity.
However, as currently funded, the humanitarian system is struggling to keep up with the pace of escalating crises, pushing more and more people into hunger and weakening already strained food systems.
The world is coming dangerously close to permanently passing the critical 1.5°C degrees limit of global warming. The first half of this year saw the longest-lived tropical cyclone on record in southern Africa and record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires across Europe, North America and Asia. The rains that arrived after the three-year long drought in the Horn of Africa brought flash floods and mass displacement, rather than relief to farmers.
With over 333 million people facing acute food insecurity and a more than 60 percent shortfall in WFP funding this year, it is critical that the world prioritizes protecting people from climate shocks.
Ecological Threat Report 2023 - Institute for Economics and Peace
By 2050, 2.8 billion people will reside in countries facing severe ecological threats, compared to 1.8 billion today.
The Ecological Threat Report (ETR) analyses ecological threats globally and assesses the countries and subnational areas most at risk from conflict, civil unrest and displacement caused by ecological degradation and climate-related events. The report covers 221 countries and independent territories.
The main finding from the ETR is that without concerted action, current levels of ecological degradation will worsen, intensifying existing conflicts, and becoming a catalyst for new conflicts, thereby resulting in increases in forced migration.
The number of countries suffering from severe ecological threats and low societal resilience has risen by 3 to 30 in the last year. These 'hotspot' countries are home to 1.1 billion people, an increase of 332 million. The recent pressures on global food prices have placed additional demands on countries already suffering from food insecurity.
Oct. 2023
Postponing climate action leads to bigger increases in global temperature rise - Prof. Jim Skea, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
“What determines global warming is not the timing of net zero, but the pathway by which you get there. It is the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide over time that are the main factor.
“The longer you put off action, the greater will be the cumulative CO2 emissions that have gone into the atmosphere, and therefore the higher the level of the warming. That’s the global point.”
“Every fraction of a degree matters”, Skea says, emphasising both “urgency and agency” in terms of climate action. “The situation we are in is urgent, we are in dire circumstances. But we can also do something about it if we choose to do so.”


Fossils fuels at the heart of the planetary environmental crisis: UN experts
by OHCHR, Amnesty, HRW, agencies
Nov. 2023
As COP28 begins, UN human rights experts urged States to accelerate the just and equitable phase out of fossil fuels, warning about the immense magnitude of their negative human rights impacts. They issued the following statement:
“Fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which have unequivocally caused the climate crisis.
This year records were broken with global CO2-equivalent emissions reaching 57.4 gigatons and close to 90 days with global temperature increases exceeding 1.5°C in recent months, placing the Paris Agreement commitment of limiting warming to 1.5°C in grave jeopardy.
While coal, oil and gas literally fuel the climate emergency, which is already preventing the full enjoyment of a range of human rights with disproportionate impacts on certain groups and communities, they also directly contribute to biodiversity loss, toxic pollution and water scarcity.
In fact, fossil fuels are at the heart of the planetary ecological crisis and their tremendous negative impacts on human rights are felt throughout their life cycle, from exploration and extraction to combustion and contamination.
Fossil fuels exploitation affects the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, education, an adequate standard of living, cultural rights, and a clean, healthy and sustainable environment with marginalised and vulnerable communities bearing the brunt of the consequences.
To address the planetary crisis and tackle the wide range of fossil fuels negative human rights impacts, States must urgently decarbonise and detoxify. Wealthy States and high emitters should lead the phase out of fossil fuels, beginning with avoiding new investments and terminating fossil fuel subsidies. They should also provide financial and other technical support to developing countries to ensure a just transition to a zero-carbon economy.
To successfully phase out fossil fuels will require strong international cooperation. States must fulfil their obligations to regulate the private sector and State-owned enterprises, to monitor compliance and enforce rules.
This requires addressing barriers to climate action, including greenwashing, undue political influence, strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), tax evasion and avoidance, business models not fit for the 21st century, and investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisms that empower foreign investors to block or raise the cost of climate action.
Around the world, environmental human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples and local communities have faced rights violations while raising concerns about fossil fuels. Some have been subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, lawsuits, violence and criminalisation as a result of their work.
Given the disproportionate political influence of the fossil fuel industry, States should protect climate action policies from the commercial and vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, following the powerful precedent set by the World Health Organization Convention on Tobacco Control.
Access to environmental information, public participation and access to justice must be guaranteed to ensure the full realisation of human rights, including the right to a healthy environment, in all contexts. Science-based information related to the climate crisis, including the dangers of carbon removal technologies and the flaws of forest-based carbon offsets, should be made easily accessible.
States must place human rights at the heart of all climate action, including mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage. This is an obligation for States, not an option.”
Nov. 2023
Agreement at COP28 to phase out fossil fuels is vital to prevent climate & human rights catastrophe. (Amnesty International)
An agreement at the COP28 summit to end the production and use of fossil fuels is vital to prevent a global climate catastrophe and stop an unprecedented human rights crisis which threatens the rights of billions of people from escalating, Amnesty International said today.
In a briefing titled, Fatal Fuels, Amnesty International calls for parties at COP28, which starts later this month, to agree to a full, fair, fast and funded phase out of fossil fuels and a human rights compliant transition to renewable power which facilitates access to energy for all.
“For decades the fossil fuel industry has spread disinformation about the climate crisis. The truth is that fossil fuels are endangering our future by wreaking havoc on the global climate and creating a human rights crisis of unprecedented scale,” said Candy Ofime, Amnesty International’s Legal Advisor on Climate Justice.
“If new fossil fuel projects go ahead we will fail to limit global warming this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and stave off catastrophic climate damage. COP28 is the time for states to agree to move beyond the fossil fuel era and leave behind its shameful record of climate damage and human rights abuses.
“The fossil fuel industry generates enormous wealth for relatively few corporate actors and states, which have a vested interest in blocking a just transition to renewable energy, and silencing opponents. These efforts endanger everyone’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
“Fossil fuels are finite and trying to extract every last drop of oil, cubic foot of fossil gas, or tonne of coal prolongs and worsens the enormous damage they have already caused. Alternatives are at hand and renewable energy output is growing fast but much more investment is needed. COP28 must set a fast and equitable course for a sustainable future free of fossil fuels.”
The extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and the resultant accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide, is the primary cause of global heating which is making extreme weather events such as storms, drought and floods more frequent and intense.
This is leading to loss of life, damage to property and infrastructure, wrecked livelihoods, disrupted ecosystems and reduced biodiversity, failed harvests and food scarcity, intensified competition for resources, and conflict and displacement, which are all associated with a range of human rights abuses.
Air pollution directly related to the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to 1.2 million deaths in 2020. Communities living near fossil fuel facilities are often directly harmed by pollutants known to cause respiratory illnesses, adverse pregnancy outcomes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Coal mining and fracking generate toxic waste that can contaminate water sources. Gas flaring releases toxic air pollutants. People living in “sacrifice zones” most exposed to these harms are often already subject to intersecting forms of discrimination.
Exploration, production and transportation of fossil fuels often entails devastating pollution and environmental degradation.
Amnesty International has for decades documented oil spills and the resultant harms suffered by communities in the Niger Delta where Shell and other companies have undermined local communities’ human rights to an adequate standard of living, clean water, and health, and denied them effective remedies.
Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted because much of the planet’s remaining fossil fuel resources are situated under their ancestral land, and exploitative companies often infringe on these communities’ rights to information, public participation and free, prior and informed consent.
For example, Amnesty International has shown how Adivasi communities in India affected by coal mining are rarely properly consulted before their land is acquired, ecosystems decimated and livelihoods jeopardized.
The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was recognized by the UN Human Rights Council in 2021 and the UN General Assembly in 2022 and is enshrined in the national constitutions of more than 100 countries. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights explicitly recognize that companies have a responsibility to “do no harm”.
Environmental human rights defenders, including those opposed to the production and use of fossil fuels, have increasingly been targeted and even killed for their advocacy in recent years. Some fossil fuel companies have sought to silence climate defenders through the use of so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs).
Fossil fuel companies have funded think tanks to draft and propose laws to clamp down on or criminalize climate and environmental protesters. Amnesty International campaigns to protect the right to protest, and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Many fossil fuel companies seek to shape public opinion through greenwashing and disinformation, evade regulation through the lobbying of lawmakers and regulators, and influence multilateral forums such as COPs, which can delay states’ actions to address the climate crisis. COP28 is chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of the UAE’s state oil company, which is a clear conflict of interests.
Fatal Fuels recommends that all currently untapped fossil fuel resources remain in the ground forever. Industrialized and other high greenhouse gas emitting countries in the G20, as well as high income fossil fuel producing states, must agree to quickly lead the way by stopping the expansion of oil, gas and coal production. Others must then follow. In addition, there must be a significant reduction in the extraction of fossil fuels for non-energy purposes, such as the manufacturing of plastics.
The vast subsidies states spend supporting fossil fuel use and production must end through a process which ensures there are adequate social protections in place to shield the poorest and most marginalized.
Fossil fuel and energy companies cannot be allowed to rely on unproven technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, which their lobbyists frequently promote, to delay change. They should refrain from lobbying lawmakers, and greenwashing, which makes it more difficult for the public to access accurate information about climate science.
Financial institutions must cease investing in new activities that drive fossil fuel expansion, and phase out existing funding on a timeframe aligned with the target agreed internationally to keep global warming to below 1.5°C this century.
Developed countries, historically the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, need to deliver on their commitments to provide adequate climate finance to developing states to achieve an equitable and human rights-consistent phase out of existing fossil fuel production globally, facilitating a just transition to renewable sources of power.
* The COP28 climate summit runs from 30 November to 12 December and is being held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers.
Nov. 2023
Why is the climate crisis also a human rights crisis? (Human Rights Watch)
COP28, the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, will bring together state parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as thousands of experts, journalists, climate activists, community members, and representatives from businesses and nongovernmental groups. It is a forum for states to discuss how to confront the climate crisis that is taking a growing toll on human rights around the globe.
Despite growing urgency, the meetings have largely failed to result in the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions or to adequately support a transition to renewable energy, protecting those hardest hit by floods, drought, hurricanes, and other climate-related disasters.
Why is the climate crisis also a human rights crisis?
The right to live in a healthy environment is a human right that has been recognized around the world. The climate crisis also affects many human rights, including the right to life and the rights to housing, food, and water.
From burning forests, to sweltering cities, to parched farmlands, to storm-battered coasts, the climate crisis is taking a mounting toll on lives and livelihoods around the globe. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, trap heat with profound consequences. Harm is already being felt, and the speed and scale will increase exponentially and erratically for the foreseeable future.
About 3.5 billion people already live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned. By 2050, more than a billion people living on small islands and in low-lying coastal communities and settlements are projected to be at risk from sea level rise and extreme weather.
Climate change aggravates existing social and economic inequalities. Both acute disasters and longer-term changes like multi-year droughts are far worse for low-income and marginalized communities that governments have already failed to protect.
Individuals with intersecting marginalized identities and vulnerabilities can have an even greater chance of dying, increasing poverty, or losing important resources because of climate change. Those affected include people with low incomes, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, older people, people with disabilities, women and pregnant people, children, and migrant workers. These groups are also most at risk of being left behind when disasters occur. Governments should budget to protect people’s human rights from climate harm.
Yet, the capacity of low- and middle-income governments to fulfill the rights of the most at-risk populations could become severely strained and, in many places, broken.
Governments’ ability to confront the climate crisis will most likely depend, in large measure, on what governments are doing today to uphold the rights of those already experiencing the impact of climate change and to address the underlining industries and economic policies that cause it.
The climate crisis necessitates supporting non-fossil fuel-based economies and political systems that center ending economic marginalization, racism, ableism, ageism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination.
What is at stake for human rights at COP28?
In March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science, confirmed that the world is warming at record levels and warned that governments are failing to take sufficient action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The panel urged governments to cut emissions by phasing out fossil fuels, halting deforestation, and scaling up renewable energy.
To fulfill their human rights obligation to address climate change, at this year’s COP, governments need to ensure a just and equitable transition to renewable energy and help people adapt to the impact of the climate crisis. They can do that by calling for the equitable and rights-respecting phasing out of all fossil fuels in the COP28 conclusions.
Governments at COP28 should make a commitment not to authorize new fossil fuel projects. In addition, they should end all forms of support, including subsidies and international finance, for oil, gas, and coal developments to rapidly reduce emissions and to limit the impacts of climate change.
Governments should also commit to upholding the rights of communities directly affected by fossil fuel operations, including the people working and living in and around sites of fossil fuel exploration, production, storage, transport, refining, use, and disposal.
Governments should ensure their participation and representation in decision-making on fossil fuel operations and climate change. It is particularly important to ensure participation of groups historically excluded, such as people with disabilities.
Two years ago at COP26 in Glasgow, governments made a commitment to phase down the use of coal. But last year, at COP27 in Egypt, a group of 81 countries made an ultimately unsuccessful push to include the phase out of all fossil fuels in the final text of the outcome document. The push was stymied by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states ans fossil fuel exporting countries, the Guardian reported.
Why is a fossil fuel phase out necessary to realize human rights?
There is growing consensus, including from the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel that for governments to meet global climate targets there cannot be new oil, gas, or coal projects.
Burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of the climate crisis, accounting for over 80 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, existing fossil fuel projects are already more than the climate can withstand to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius required to prevent a global climate collapse.
Nevertheless, governments continue to authorize – and subsidize – building fossil fuel infrastructure and poorly regulate existing operations. The fossil fuel industry deflects public and political pressure on its core operations, most recently by claiming that its operations can become “net zero.”
Why are robust regulations essential to ensure that carbon markets uphold human rights and support effective climate action, and which rules should be adopted at COP28?
COP28 should ensure the global carbon market contemplated under Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement is strictly regulated to uphold rights, support climate action, and provide a remedy for harm. These are vital issues given that state parties to the agreement, corporations, and other private entities are rapidly developing their presence in the market, even while safeguards in most countries range from inadequate to nonexistent.
Carbon markets trade in carbon credits, which are supposed to represent carbon dioxide that has been removed from, or prevented from being emitted into, the atmosphere by projects ranging from forest conservation to clean energy, among others. Many corporations and governments purchase carbon credits to claim they offset their own pollution.
Yet, many carbon credits traded in those markets do not actually represent permanently removed carbon or avoided emissions. These hot air credits undermine climate action when they are used to offset pollution, as no overall emissions reductions actually take place.


View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook