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WP_2006: Climate Change and Human Rights PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joachim Willms [Managing Director]   
Wuppertal Institute Publication:

Climate Change and Human Rights

In the series "Scripta Varia","The Pontifical Academy of Sciences" published a contribution by Wolfgang Sachs with the title "Climate Change and Human Rights".

On February 16, 2005, when the Kyoto Protocol finally came into force, a long drawn-out process of consensus and institution building reached a temporary conclusion. International climate policy makers had achieved what they had been struggling over for the last century and a half. Now for the first time, despite setbacks along the way, industrial countries have a legal commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the "entry into force" of the Kyoto Protocol is the beginning as much as the end of a historical process, it is advisable to look at some of the deeper implications of international climate policy, in particular at its implications for global fairness and equity.

At the time of the Rio Conference, it had already become clear that climate change is far from being just an ecological issue; it is also an issue of equity. In particular, climate change was identified as an issue of intergenerational equity. It became ominously clear to observers that global warming, since it modifies important parameters of the ecology of the planet, such as sea levels or weather patterns, will affect the relations between present and future generations. Today's generation, by filling up the absorptive capacity of the atmosphere, lives at the expense of tomorrow's generation. At the same time, it came to the fore that the use of fossil fuels not only affects inter-generational equity, but also intra-generational equity, i.e., the relations between nations and social groups within a generation. Who will be allowed to reap the benefits from fossil fuel combustion? Who will have to carry the burden of emission abatement? Equity within a generation has at least two dimensions (Wuppertal Institute, 2005).
  • First, it implies the fair distribution of burdens and benefits of fossil fuel use among nations.
  • Secondly, however, it also implies the universal protection of human dignity by securing the fundamental rights of every human person to water, food, housing, and health.
The article will focus on the latter dimension; it will explore the links between human rights and climate change, without, however, losing sight of the broader framework of equity in climate politics.
Wolfgang Sachs: "Climate Change and Human Rights" ( 210 KB )
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