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Linking climate change to human rights

Tohinur Islam | May 05, 2018 00:00:00

Chief Seattle said, "All things share the same breath- the beast, the tree, the man. The air shares its spirit with all the life it supports." More than one hundred years ago, Chief Seattle tried to use this to champion the cause of protection of environment. Climate change is nothing new for us to know about, but it is high time we must discern the other side of climate change except the changing weather pattern of any country or region.

The report on "Managing the Health Effects of Climate change" launched by The Lancet' and the University College London (UCL) declaims that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Key areas of the UCL team are mentioned as Pattern of Disease and Mortality, Food Security, Water and Sanitation, Urbanisation and Extreme Events, Population Migration, Shelter and Human Settlements. All the key areas are under a threat that occurred due to the climate change. Furthermore, all the mentioned threats are associated with Human Rights, to be precise basic human rights such as right to life, dignity, liberty, personal security and living standards.

Bangladesh is one of the colossal deltas in the world which is tremendously endangered by natural disasters due to its geographical location. Almost 80 per cent of the total area of the country is susceptible to flooding and almost the whole belt along the Bay of Bengal is experiencing a salinity problem as a consequence of rapid climate change. In addition, north and north-western regions of the country are suffering from drought due to the extreme level of temperature. South and south-eastern part of the country are facing frequent tropical cyclones. All these impacts are leading towards the violation of human rights such as right to life, dignity, health and security. It is high time the government, lawmakers and law enforcing agencies take the issue of climate change as a great threat to human rights. This issue has been somewhat addressed in courts of some other countries.

In Pakistan, a farmer filed a public interest litigation in 2015 alleging the delay and inaction in implementing the National Climate Change Policy, the Government of Pakistan making people vulnerable to adverse consequences of climate change and thereby violating the fundamental constitutional rights to life and dignity. And Lahore High Court Green Bench accepted the claim. Furthermore, in the Netherlands, the Hague District Court in 2015 found that the Netherlands must do more to forestall the forthcoming danger caused by climate change with a view to its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment. Both the cases are recent examples which show the urge of taking environmental issues seriously as they pose a threat to human rights and governments have a legal responsibility in this regard.

The Article 32 of The Constitution of The People's Republic of Bangladesh has ensured right to life and personal liberty. The Article 18A has ensured protection and improvement of environment and biodiversity as fundamental rights of the citizens of Bangladesh. Human rights are the rights that human beings inherit from their birth irrespective of any kind of discrimination, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, arguably, the Constitution imposes some duties on the government to work for protection of environment.

The matter is more crucial as it is the future generation and the current generation who are now in a vulnerable situation as they are the ones who will bear the consequences of climate change first and hardest. United Nations Special Rapporteur John H. Knox in his extensive research finds that environmental harm interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights including the rights to life, health, food and water. For instance, in 2016, UNICEF estimated that more than 400 children under the age of five years were dying every year in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, as consequences of pneumonia related to air pollution. It is important to mention that air pollution is one of the major environmental harm to human rights. Moreover, we are not unaware about the fact that Dhaka has been ranked highest in the US Air Quality Index (AQI), for having the worst level of air pollution in the world.

It is the high time to act seriously on climate change. In this regard, the recent Paris Agreement is the first global environmental agreement which confirms the international community's recognition that human rights obligations apply in the context of climate change. Hence, a great deal needs to be done to bring the Paris Agreement into action, in order to see a fast curtailment in emissions which would in turn play a role in the protection of human rights too.

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