UN Rapporteur Says Globe at Risk of ‘Climate Apartheid’



A United Nations human rights rapporteur has handed down a report predicting the globe is on the verge of a ‘climate apartheid’, where the world’s wealthier individuals will be able to pay to escape heat, hunger and rising sea levels, while the developing world will suffer the worst of the consequences.


Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights says the impact of global warming is set to compromise not only basic human rights like access to clean drinking water, food and housing, but could also undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Alston was critical even of the UN in their “patently inadequate” steps, as well as those taken by businesses, countries and NGOs that he describes as “entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat.”


He said the most recent HRC resolution surrounding the climate crisis did not take note of the fact that “the enjoyment of all human rights by vast numbers of people is gravely threatened,” and “the need for deep social and economic transformation, which almost all observers agree is urgent if climate catastrophe is to be averted.”


The report concludes that “human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” he said, noting that developing nations stand to incur 75% of the costs in the wake of a climate crisis, despite the fact they contributed to around 10% of global carbon emissions.


“Yet democracy and the rule of law, as well as a wide range of civil and political rights are every bit at risk.”


“The risk of community discontent, of growing equality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex,” he said.


Included in the report were condemnations for the US president Donald Trump for “actively silencing” scientists working on climate research, outlining that Trump “has placed former lobbyists in oversight roles, adopted industry talking points, presided over an aggressive rollback of environmental regulations, and is actively silencing and obfuscating climate science.”


Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, was also mentioned for his pledge to open up mining and accelerating deforestation in the Amazon. On the positive side, Alston noted the activism of Greta Thunberg, legal cases against states and fossil fuel companies alike, worldwide school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion group.


“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,” Alston said.


“When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York in 2012, stranding low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers without access to power and healthcare, the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator,” he noted to exemplify his case.


Alston’s report deemed current international treaties like the Paris Climate Accord as inefficient and ineffective, stating that “States have marched past every scientific warning and threshold, and what was once considered [a] catastrophic warning now seems like a best-case scenario.”


Alston says that the required steps in tackling climate change could also provide an opportunity to improve the quality of the developing world and increase their human rights. “This crisis,” Alston said, “should be a catalyst for states to fulfil long-ignored economic and social rights, including to social security and access to food, healthcare, shelter, and decent work.”


Alston’s report is set to be formally presented to the United Nations human rights council in Geneva on Friday.


Amnesty International spokesperson, Ashfaq Khalfan said that “climate change is a human rights issue precisely because of the impact it’s having on people. The primary obligation to protect people from human rights harms lies with states. A state that fails to take any feasible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is violated their human rights obligations,” they said.


“We need everybody to live up to their responsibilities to act on climate change and protect human rights,” Khalfan said.

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