On June 25th, the United Nations released a report saying the world is at risk of a “climate apartheid.” This describes a situation where wealthy people will be able to escape heat and hunger caused by climate change, while the poor are forced to endure distressing conditions. Philip Alston, a UN expert on human rights and extreme poverty, said climate change “could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.” While there are many things to understand from the dense findings, there are key highlights that are crucial to know about the UN report on “climate apartheid.”
5 facts from the UN report on “climate apartheid”:
- Extreme weather conditions threaten to undo the last 50 years of progress in poverty reduction around the globe.
Weather-related conditions like droughts and flooding are much more likely to occur if climate change continues to worsen. People who already experience extreme poverty tend to live in communities that depend on local harvests to survive. If weather causes food supplies to disappear, these people are likely to experience famine and malnutrition. This can result in illness and death.
- Even the “best-case scenario” for climate change would lead to food insecurity in many regions.
Next, Alston says that “even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger.” Reaching current targets would mean only a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in temperature by 2100. This would cause many already poor regions to become food insecure.
- The UNHC says that it’s likely the wealthy will be able to pay to escape worsening conditions.
Alston notes that “an over-reliance on the private sector could lead to a climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” For example, he cited the 2012 Hurricane Sandy as an example of this, because many impoverished New Yorkers were without basic necessities during the disaster, while “the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator.”
- Democracy could be at risk in affected regions.
If weather conditions lead governments to declare states of emergency, it is likely to cause drastic changes in power structures. The report says “states may very well respond to climate change by augmenting government powers and circumscribing some rights. This will be a very fraught process and require great vigilance on the part of governments, human rights institutions and national and regional courts.” Additionally, some governments will be under-prepared to cope with serious conditions. As a result, this can cause social unrest and community discontent. It could even spark nationalist, xenophobic and racist responses.
- There are potential solutions.
The report also suggests that tackling the problem with a human-rights-focused response may be the best way. It includes giving vulnerable communities access to protective infrastructure, financial aid, relocation options, employment support and land tenure. Additionally, this includes access to food, clean water and healthcare. Furthermore, the report noted that building coalitions are key to addressing the issue, saying “major human rights actors must tackle questions about emissions, resource allocation, and energy and economic policy that states are grappling with and where there is a real need for detailed, actionable recommendations.”
Why the report matters
Overall, the release of the UNHR document has sparked widespread media coverage and global awareness. Understanding these 5 Facts from the UN report on “climate apartheid” is a critical step in addressing the problem.