Climate Change Undermines Human Rights

‘Climate inaction’ costing lives … A BBC-world news item drew my attention to a new Oxfam report Climate Wrongs and Human Rights, in which a clear connection is made between climate change and human rights (such as: the right to life and security, the right to food, the right to subsistence, the right to health, all internationally recognized human rights that are threatened by the consequences of global warming and climate change). This is a very important connection. Indeed, we usually think about climate change in terms of sciences or in terms of economy (targetting mainly the energy resources and the offsetting) … and the latter can give rise to a very cynical cost calculation and balance. A Jesuit of SJS (the Jesuit Social Justice Secretariat in Rome) once told me: “if the connection is not made between climate change and social justice, we won’t be able to motivate people”. Well, this document should do the trick! There is no way to hide anymore: not acting responsibly in the context of climate change, not changing one’s lifestyles that are directly involved in causing climate change (however small this contribution may be) means infringing upon the human rights of mainly poor people … in Christian terminology: it’s sin. And I would add passionately: those who didn’t know, should know now: they move from ignorance to sin. The focus on human rights allows for a powerful moral perspective and an emphasis on responsibility.

Oxfam is not naive. It opens a competition for suggestions on how to bring these offenses on human rights to court, ánd it suggests policies of mitigation and adaptation along a set of human rights principles: guarantee a core minimum – a basic standard of rights for all; focus on vulnerability and those whose rights are most at risk; ensure participation of people whose rights are affected by policies; provide accountability and remedies for violations; deliver on international co-operation to realise rights worldwide. It is very concrete and makes us realize how much depends on us and our political will and commitments.

If I would be allowed one comment, at least with regard to the Executive Summary, which is what I have read, I would broaden the emphasis on states, not in the direction of companies because that is done, but in the direction of more international and global institutions. I am wondering whether the concept of states – even in the distinction between rich and poor countries, as the geographical wealth distribution is more complex than that – is still the most workable political and visionary (strategic) perspective, and to focus on the responsibility of states seems to me to be important, but by far not enough for the global, worldwide crisis of global warming and climate change.

The fellow Jesuit at SJS is right … this Oxfam document will help. The Society of Jesus, as one of the worldwide Roman Catholic organisations working at various levels (presence in the fields of suffering, capacity for reflection and transdisciplinary analysis up to the highest academic standards, active in networks that can powerfully affect public opinion and political decision-making, with entries in the mass media and on the internet, tapping into spiritual resources and offering those to people, …), is a wonderful platform to work on the worldwide perspective. So is the Roman Catholic Church as a whole … One may expect that the awareness of a severe sin of omission when not acting, will spur us into ever more real, concrete and universal, service.


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