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Our addiction to fossil fuels causes climate emergency, say human rights experts
by UN Office for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Sep. 2019
UN human rights experts call for an end to society''s addiction to fossil fuels ahead of the Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September 2019. They issue the following statement:
"Burning coal, oil, and gas produce the vast majority of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in the global climate emergency that endangers human rights in every region of the planet.
"Twenty-seven years after all States committed to tackling the challenge of climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the share of the world''s energy provided by fossil fuels remains unchanged at 81 percent. Since 1990, global energy consumption has grown 57 percent, with coal consumption up 68 percent, oil use up 36 percent and natural gas use up 82 percent.
Climate change is already causing increased frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather events, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, rising sea levels, storm surges, saltwater intrusion, ocean acidification, changes in precipitation, flooding, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, increased air pollution, desertification, water shortages, the destruction of ecosystems, biodiversity loss and the spread of water-borne and vector-borne disease.
Among the human rights being threatened and violated by climate change are the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, a healthy environment, an adequate standard of living, housing, property, self-determination, development and culture.
While fossil fuels have made an enormous contribution to economic prosperity, the environmental and social costs of their use are staggering. Millions of people die prematurely each year because of air pollution, while billions of people are adversely affected by the Earth''s changing climate.
In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that ''limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society''. To meet the 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement and limit the damage to human rights, urgent and effective actions must be implemented immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030, phase out unabated fossil fuel burning by the middle of the century, and reverse deforestation.
In addition, indigenous peoples knowledge may prove essential to curb the effects of climate change: their ancestral knowledge and leadership, which have maintained many of humanity''s forests, biodiversity and other resources, must be preserved. It is therefore crucial indigenous peoples rights be protected, including their right to freely and fully participate in shaping policy decisions, in particular regarding hydroelectric, wind or other projects which may be developed on their traditional homelands with the goal of reducing fossil fuels.
To empower and protect vulnerable populations requires mobilizing at least $100 billion in annual adaptation funding to assist low-income countries, and establishing a new fund, financed by an air passenger travel levy, to support small island developing States and least developed countries in addressing loss and damage caused by climate change. Wealthy countries and other large emitters must lead these efforts and provide the majority of the requisite financing.
Meeting the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C could save millions of lives every year, providing trillions of dollars in health and environmental benefits. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency would create unprecedented economic opportunities. Measures must also be put in place to ensure a just transition, such as re-training and educational opportunities for workers in the coal, oil and gas industries.
A safe climate is a vital element of the right to a healthy environment and is absolutely essential to human life and well-being. In today''s global climate emergency, meeting the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights could help to spur the transformative changes that are so urgently required."

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Climate Change - There is no greater threat facing the rights of the next generation of children
by Henrietta Fore
Executive Director, UNICEF
Sep. 2019
Climate Change - There is no greater threat facing the rights of the next generation of children.
It sounds obvious that all children need these basics to sustain healthy lives – a clean environment to live in, clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat – and it sounds strange to be making this point in 2019.
Yet climate change has the potential to undermine all of these basic rights and indeed most of the gains made in child survival and development over the past 30 years. There is perhaps no greater threat facing the rights of the next generation of children.
The Food and Agriculture Organization noted last year that climate change is becoming a key force behind the recent continued rise in global hunger, and as escalating droughts and flooding degrade food production, the next generation of children will bear the greatest burden of hunger and malnutrition.
We are already seeing evidence of extreme weather events driven by climate change creating more frequent and more destructive natural disasters, and while future forecasts vary, according to the International Organization for Migration, the most frequently cited number of environmental migrants expected worldwide by 2050 is 200 million, with estimates as high as 1 billion.
As temperatures increase and water becomes scarcer it is children who will feel the deadliest impact of waterborne diseases. Today, more than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence and almost 160 million in high-drought severity zones.
Regions like the Sahel, which are especially reliant on agriculture, grazing and fishing, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In this arid region, rains are projected to get even shorter and less predictable in the future, and alarmingly, the region is warming up at a rate one and a half times faster than the global average.
In the Sahel, the climate gets hotter and the poor get poorer, and it is all too common for armed groups to exploit the social grievances that arise under such pressurized conditions.
These challenges will only be compounded by the impact of air pollution, toxic waste and groundwater pollution damaging children’s health.
In 2017 approximately 300 million children were living in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines, and it contributes to the deaths of around 600,000 children under the age of 5. Even more will suffer lasting damage to their developing brains and lungs.
And, by 2040, one in four children will live in areas of extreme water stress and many thousands will be made sick by polluted water. The management and protection of clean, accessible groundwater supplies, and the management of plastic waste are very fast becoming defining child health issues for our time.
To mitigate climate change, governments and business must work together to tackle the root causes by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, we must give the highest priority to efforts to find adaptations that reduce environmental impacts on children.
To turn the tide on air pollution, governments and business must work hand in hand to reduce fossil fuel consumption, develop cleaner agricultural, industrial and transport systems and invest in scaling renewable energy sources.
May 2019
With deadly cyclones on the rise, UNICEF raises concern about impact of climate change on children
The cyclone that recently struck India and the back-to-back cyclones that tore through Mozambique in March and April have caused serious damage to the lives of thousands of children. They should be an urgent wake-up call to world leaders on the serious risks that extreme weather events pose to the lives of children, UNICEF said today.
"We are witnessing a worrisome trend," says Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. "Cyclones, droughts and other extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity. As we have seen in Mozambique and elsewhere, poorer countries and communities are disproportionately affected. For children who are already vulnerable, the impact can be devastating."
More than 120,000 children were affected by Cyclone Kenneth, the strongest storm Mozambique has ever recorded. At least 400 schools were damaged or destroyed, affecting over 40,000 schoolchildren. A cholera outbreak has been declared in the affected area of Cabo Delgado. The April 25 cyclone came just six weeks after Cyclone Idai pummeled the country, affecting 1 million children. Nearly two months on, close to 25,000 people continue to live in shelters.
Meanwhile in Odisha, India, 28 million people, including 10 million children, are in the path of Cyclone Fani. Some 1 million people have already been evacuated in preparation for what has been described as India''s strongest cyclone in more than 20 years.
"Children will bear the brunt of these disasters," said Gautam Narasimhan, UNICEF Senior Adviser on Climate Change.
"This is not business as usual. Climate change is linked to rising sea levels and the increase in rainfall associated with cyclones, thus causing more devastation in coastal but also inland areas.
In the short term, the most vulnerable children are at risk of drowning and landslides, deadly diseases including cholera and malaria, malnutrition from reduced agricultural production, and psychological trauma - all of which are compounded when health centers and schools are impacted.
In the long term, cycles of poverty can linger for years and limit the capacity of families and communities to adapt to climate change and to reduce the risk of disasters."
Sep. 2018
Record heatwaves, floods, droughts a stark vision of the world for future generations, by Ted Chaiban. (Unicef)
The large number of extreme weather events around the world, including floods in southern India, wildfires in the western United States and heatwaves across much of the northern hemisphere, are putting children in immediate danger, as well as jeopardizing their futures, UNICEF warned today.
“In any crisis, children are among the most vulnerable, and the extreme weather events we are seeing around the world are no exception,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Programmes. “Over the past few months, we have seen a stark vision of the world we are creating for future generations. “As more extreme weather events increase the number of emergencies and humanitarian crises, it is children who will pay the highest price,” he added.
June and July saw record high temperatures set across much of the northern hemisphere, with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reporting the first six months of the year have made it the hottest La Niña year on record.
From North America to East Asia, and from the Arctic Circle to Europe, large parts of the globe have experienced heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and landslides resulting in injury and loss of life, environmental damage and widespread loss to livelihoods including harvest losses. Countries in Central America and the Caribbean are preparing for the peak of the hurricane season while still trying to recover from the devastating 2017 season, which was the costliest on record.
While individual weather events cannot specifically be attributed to climate change, the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather -- including recent high temperatures, intense rains and slow-moving weather fronts -- are in line with predictions of how human activities are affecting the global climate.
Such events can cause death and devastation, and can also contribute to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. And as these extreme climate events increase in frequency and magnitude, the risks to children will likely outpace global capacity to mitigate them as well as to provide humanitarian response.
“As the world experiences a steady rise in climate-driven extreme weather events, it is children’s lives and futures that will be the most disrupted,” added Chaiban. “Therefore, it’s vital that Governments and the international community take concrete steps to safeguard children’s future and their rights. The worst impacts of climate change are not inevitable, but the time for action is now.”
Numerous studies have documented that human-induced climate change has increased the frequency and severity of heatwaves across the globe. Children are especially at risk as they adjust more slowly than adults to changes in environmental heat, and are more susceptible to heat-related health risks, with children under 12 months old particularly vulnerable.
Infants and small children are more likely to die or suffer from heatstroke because they are unable to regulate their body temperature and control their surrounding environment. Extreme heat conditions also increase the need for safe and reliable drinking water, while in many cases rendering such water more scarce through evaporation.
Floods threaten children’s survival and development, with direct impacts including injuries and death by drowning. Beyond these immediate risks, floods compromise safe water supplies and damage sanitation facilities, increasing the risk of diarrhoea and other disease outbreaks, as well as impacting children’s access to education.
Damage to housing endangers children’s well-being, particularly if emergency shelter is either scarce or inadequate. It also destroys infrastructure, making it difficult to move lifesaving assistance where needed.
Droughts have multiple effects on poor families and communities. Crops fail, livestock die and income drops, leading to food insecurity for the poor as well as rising food prices globally. Water becomes scarce and the lack of food and water, as well as inequitable access to these necessities, can result in migration and social disorder, with children among the most vulnerable to the consequences of these effects.
* UNICEF: The impact of climate change on children:
* UN Office for Human Rights: Analytical study on the relationship between climate change and the rights of the child:


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