Climate Change Threatens Human Rights And Democracy, UN Official Warns

Canberra Times - Sherryn Groch

International law scholar and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human right Philip Alston.
Philip Alston
Philip Alston is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University. He is currently UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. In 2014 he was a member of the Security Council-established commission of inquiry on the Central African Republic. He previously served as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions (2004–10), as well as Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1991–98). During the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he was UNICEF’s Legal Adviser.
It reads like the pages of a dystopian novel - a world stuck in a "climate apartheid" where only the rich can escape the worst of global warming while hundreds of millions battle disease, food insecurity, forced migration and monster storms.
And, on our current course, scientific modelling says even that number is a best-case scenario.
Speaking at the Australian National University on Thursday, the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston will deliver a sharp warning to Australia on global warming.
In a world already one degree warmer than it was before the industrial revolution, the effects of climate change are starting to bite but nations remain unprepared for their full force, Profesor Alston said ahead of his lecture.
That puts human rights and even democracy at greater risk, as civil unrest, migration and soaring health care costs threaten to tank economies - and governments - in the years ahead.
"If you do nothing and it gets to the point it is, of emergency, it's like any emergency it becomes very hard to act logically," he said.
"Syria and other places are going to look fairly small-scale in comparison with what climate change is going to do over next 30 years or so.
"And it's the middle classes as well as those who are very poor who will feel it."
While Australia so far did not appear to have the same appetite for populism he saw on display in his native US, Professor Alston said it was just as opposed to the economic reform needed to avert disaster.
"Australia is a lesson to the broader community," he said.
"What we are seeing is an extremely short-sighted preoccupation with neo-liberal economic policies that oppose any kind of intervention or regulation [of industry]."
Australia was a major player in global climate action as a rich nation, he said, but appeared to be falling into step with the anti-climate science agenda of US president Donald Trump.
"Trump uses political rhetoric as only he can do, but the [Australian] government is doing pretty much the same thing without using the offensive words," Professor Alston said.

AUDIO:'The globe's at risk of climate apartheid', UN rapporteur warns. ABC

While the Morrison government has moved to downplay Australia's rising emissions, advice from its own advisory Climate Change Authority released earlier this month urged Australia to adopt more ambitious policies to put the nation "firmly" on the path to a zero-carbon economy.
Professor Alston said the authority appeared to be "weak as water" compared to the model in the UK, where a special committee on climate change produced recommendations that had to be considered by parliament.
Ticking boxes will not save humanity.
Professor Philip Alston
He noted jobs had to be considered carefully in the switch over to renewable energy from fossil fuels, which produce the emissions behind rising temperatures.
But he stressed governments could not keep pouring trillions of dollars into subsidies for the same companies polluting the planet.
"No one wants to inflict pain on a particular industry, [but] the fiddling around, the 'let's set another target'...incremental change has been a proven disaster," he said.
More damage has been done in the three decades since the UN established its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) in 1988 than in the whole of human history before it.
Professor Alston said the only hope of containing runaway climate change to 1.5 degrees of warming - and so averting more than 190 million deaths - now lay in a radical overhaul of the system.
"In some ways democracy has failed on climate change," he said. "You get politicians only thinking about the next election year.
"If you watch Fox News or read The Australian you will see that the push-back is this idea that it's all a Trojan horse for socialist upheaval [from] people pretending to be concerned about climate change."
The science - and increasingly the economics - told the real story, he said.
The World Bank now predicts climate change could push 120 million more people into poverty by 2030.
While the poorest half of the world's population - 3.5 billion people - is responsible for just 10 per cent of carbon emissions, they are also the most at risk.
Professor Alston said pursuing ambitious reform now offered an unprecedented opportunity to make systems inherently fairer.
"Economic prosperity, decent work, and environmental sustainability are fully compatible," Professor Alston said.
More than 20 countries had already uncoupled their economies from fossil fuels without slowing them down, he found in a recent report. Not only did they create new green jobs, they reduced poverty at a faster rate than elsewhere.
Professor Alston's criticism is not just reserved for governments.
Human rights organisations across the globe - including his own UN - have barely begun to grapple with climate change, he said, and remained too wedded to traditional means of litigation or advocacy.
"They've long resisted prioritising one issue over others....or more radical methods," he said.
"Voluntary emissions reduction commitments will only go so far."
Fortunately, he said, the movement was gaining momentum in another place it was desperately needed - on the ground.
From millions of students striking for climate action to environmentalists and farmers winning court actions against fossil fuel companies, people were beginning to recognise that saving the planet was really about their rights.
Earlier this month, celebrated broadcaster Sir David Attenborough also lashed Australia for its climate inaction, noting the country was especially at risk from the adverse effects of global warming such as increased heatwaves and bushfires.


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