Fossil fuel dependency causes climate emergency: UN experts

UN human rights experts have called for an end to society’s addiction to fossil fuels ahead of the Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23. “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,” said the experts in a joint statement issued from Geneva on Tuesday.

They said a safe climate is a vital element of the right to a healthy environment and is absolutely essential to human life and wellbeing. “In today’s global climate emergency, meeting the obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights could help spur the transformative changes that are so urgently required,” the statement said.

The UN experts are David R Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Elżbieta Karska (Chairperson), Githu Muigai (Vice-Chairperson), Surya Deva, Dante Pesce, and Anita Ramasastry, Members of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Dainius Pῡras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Philip ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

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.

They said 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,” the statement added.

They said 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, the UN experts said.