Two of the most pressing issues that the world is currently facing are climate change and the abuse of human rights. Both problems are of significant priority to the United Nations and the international community as a whole. Furthermore, John Knox—a United Nations independent expert on human rights law and the environment—issued a report that urged for environmental policy to be included within human rights laws.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the [human rights] obligations require States to assess environmental impacts on human rights and to make environmental information public, to provide access to effective remedies, and to facilitate participation in environmental decision-making.”
Knox has been a frequent writer on the relationship between human rights law and environmental law.
His report was presented before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on March 11, 2014, and his testimony brought up many important considerations. There have already been multiple instances in which environmental concerns and human rights have been closely intertwined. The humanitarian crisis of violence and displacement in northeastern Nigeria serves as a quintessential case—and has also been closely linked to climate change.
International organizations such as Human Rights Watch and various media outlets have shed light upon the human rights crisis in Nigeria spanning back to the beginning of 2014. Violence carried out by the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, has spread through much of northeastern Nigeria and thousands of people have been displaced as a result. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated the figure to be over 470,000 individuals.
The humanitarian crisis in Nigeria gained the attention the international community as it also placed substantial economic burdens on surrounding nations that refugees have fled to—such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
The violence is a result of many factors, but environmental problems are central to the instability. Northeastern Nigeria, in particular, has faced many repercussions with impacts of climate change—with desertification as the most prominent effect of climate change in the country. It has been a major problem to the people of Nigeria, and the lack of governance with the failure to produce and allocate resources has caused alarming consequences.
On March 3, 2014, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification issued a publication warning; regions that are highly vulnerable to desertification are also prone to threats to security in a number of forms. Studies have supported the connection and show that environmental hazards or disasters produce significant consequences in areas such as community infrastructure, socioeconomic development and governance among other factors.
The connection comes at a very important time with the global community attempting to reach a deal to curb climate change before the impacts become far too devastating. However, even after many years of diplomacy, a binding international agreement has not yet been made.
The United Nations hopes for 2014 to be a productive year in alleviating the problem of climate change so that an agreement can be made in 2015 and an international treaty can be finally ratified by 2020. The legal connection and obligations between human rights and environmental policy may pave the way for progress to be made.
– Jugal Patel