Burning down the house

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, released a powerful statement today urging governments to take strong action to address climate change.

In part, he stated:

"Given the stakes, urgent, effective and ambitious action is certainly a moral imperative. But it is also a legal obligation. Here’s why.

First, we now know that climate change is a human-induced phenomenon. We know it is not an accident of nature, but rather the result of choices made by human beings in both the public and the private spheres. The use of fossil fuels, destructive technologies, unsustainable consumption patterns, continued global militarization—all of these are human activities that are destroying our climate and, thereby, undercutting the realization of human rights for all of us.

Second, we now know that climate change is having a devastating impact on a wide range of internationally-guaranteed human rights -- the rights to food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and health – for millions of people. For those living in small-island states, even the right to self-determination is at risk, as rising seas threaten to swallow their homelands. And the right to life itself has already been taken from far too many by the ravages of climate change.

Third, international human rights law imposes affirmative legal obligations on all states to take the necessary steps in law, policy, institutions, and public budgets to protect human rights from such harms. States are obliged to prevent these harms by regulating environmental practices, to hold violators accountable, protect vulnerable communities, and ensure redress where harms are suffered.

Clearly, we are living in an age of widespread breach of these obligations. This must end."