A United Nations expert has warned that the world is at risk of a “climate apartheid”, where rich people “pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer”.
“Climate change will exacerbate existing poverty and inequality,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said in a report released on Monday. “It will have the most severe impact in poor countries and regions, and the places poor people live and work. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75% to 80% of the costs of climate change.”
The report added that even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger. “Even under the best-case scenario, hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease, and death,” it said. “Climate change threatens the future of human rights and risks undoing the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and pull vast numbers into poverty.” Alston said that climate change could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030.
“While people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves,” Alston said in the report, according to a statement by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
Climate change will affect the rights to life, food, housing and water dramatically, the report added. “Most human rights bodies have barely begun to grapple with what climate change portends for human rights, and it remains one on a long laundry list of ‘issues’, despite the extraordinarily short time to avoid catastrophic consequences,” Alston said. “As a full-blown crisis that threatens the human rights of vast numbers of people bears down, the usual piecemeal, issue-by-issue human rights methodology is woefully insufficient.”
The report condemned countries and government officials for “taking short-sighted steps” in the wrong direction and failing to meet even current commitments to reduce carbon emissions and provide climate financing. “Maintaining the current course is a recipe for economic catastrophe,” Alston said. “Economic prosperity and environmental sustainability are fully compatible but require decoupling economic well-being and poverty reduction from fossil fuel emissions.”
The UN expert criticised United States President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in his report. While Bolsonaro was condemned for opening up the rainforest to mining and weakening the environment, Trump was told off for placing “former lobbyists in oversight roles” and rolling back environmental protections.
China, Alston added, is moving to end reliance on coal, but exporting coal-fired power plants abroad and failing to implement its regulations for methane emissions at home. “Sombre speeches by government officials at regular conferences are not leading to meaningful action,” Alston wrote. “Thirty years of conventions appear to have done very little.”
The steps taken by most United Nations human rights bodies are “patently inadequate” and “premised on forms of incremental managerialism and proceduralism which are entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude” of the threat, the report said. “Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster,” Alston warned.