The human rights perspective to climate change; lessons from the supertyphoon Haiyan

By Mugisha Moses

As world’s nations were preparing for yet another COP meeting in the Polish capital Warsaw, typhoon Haiyan was in its advanced stages to hit the Philippines. And when it did, Tacloban, Leyte, Cebu and other towns are likely to take years to rebuild.

Like the article I read on the Time magazine website science section that scientists can’t yet find a clear signal between global warming and the killer tropical storms like Haiyan, the coloration between climate change and human rights has not been fully explored especially in the Developing world.

Although the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR) and the subsequent International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR) as well as the International Covenant on Social Economic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have been signed or adopted by most world sovereign states, there adoption seems to have been made with less anticipation of climate change. After all, at the time, what seemed to the biggest threat to world peace and harmony was the fear of the possibility of the outbreak of the third world war.

Let’s take a look at the fundamental rights in light to what happened in Philippines. The right to life, right to an environment of a particular quality, right adequate food, water, health, and security was all in a single blow deprived of the victims of the typhoon.

Despite the fact that states are responsible for ensuring the uplifting of the fundamental rights of its citizenry, climate change has proved that sometimes a single state may be completely unable to help its people in the aftermath of a disaster of certain magnitude.

While watching a BBC program on the rescue efforts in what used to be the city of tacloban, I could not comprehend the dire situation the people were in. With no homes to return to, no drinking water, no shelter, decomposing bodies and the last thing one would think of; escape of inmates from a prison, my mind sprang into action on what I have for some time been casually researching about; the climate induced human rights challenges.

Since Kyoto, a deal to have in place a legal framework on GHG emissions does not seem to be coming soon. Nevertheless the big emitters USA and China have lent a hand in helping the victims of the typhoon in Philippines.

Besides the need of recognizing climate change as a threat to human rights in the same respect war and totalitarianism are, climate negotiations must look towards coming up with legally binding laws on carbon emissions and ways of helping people in the face of climate induced disasters.

When the COP meeting took place in Nairobi Kenya in 2006, some delegates were described by a journalist as “climate tourists” because they came to Kenya to see Africa, take snaps of wildlife, the poor, dying African Children and women”. This could have been as a result these annual negotiations yielding no tangible results. This time we have seen the Philippine’s negotiator in Warsaw calling for “real action”, perhaps we have to keep our hopes alive and wait to see real action happening.