Are we going to face a climate “apartheid”?

Carbon is being produced at a rate 100 times quicker than any time before and the situation has only deteriorated further since the creation of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988. The past five years have been the warmest on record and global carbon dioxide emissions began increasing again in 2017 after decreasing during a period of three years. Furthermore, world energy use is expected to raise 28% between 2015 and 2040. The 2015 Paris Agreement´s main objective is to prevent the global temperature from rising above 2°C by 2100 and tries to further constraint it to 1.5°C. Nevertheless, even an 1.5°C increase would still be disastrous. Moreover, developing countries will support approximately 75% of the losses linked to the climate crisis, despite producing only 10% of carbon dioxide emissions.



According to a report published on 25 June 2019 by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, the world is more and more threatened by “climate apartheid”, where the wealthy pay to flee high temperature and famine triggered by the rising climate crisis whereas the poorest have to live through it. The report projects that over 120 million people could fall into poverty in the next ten years because of climate change. More worryingly, nearly all countries are off course to reach their targets. The European Union was recently unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a net zero emissions deadline and the G20 is getting ready to tone down its guarantees on climate change. Yet, to limit warming to 1.5°C “societal transformation” and bold emissions reduction actions are needed. At this point, an increase of 1.5°C seems unrealistic but even in this best-case scenario, 500 million people will be subjected to water shortage, 36 million people could face a decrease in harvests, and up to 4.5 billion people could be experiencing heat waves. The worst affected will be the poorest.


The UN Special Rapporteur adds that the effects of global warming are expected to challenge not only basic rights to food, housing and water for hundreds of millions of individuals, but also democracy and the rule of law. Alston argues that “climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction” and he concludes the report by saying that “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval”. Moreover, the report states that the poorest people will be forced to "choose between starvation and migration". The predicted mass forced migration will "pose immense and unprecedented challenges to governance" and likely stimulate "nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses."


Various analysts have claimed that climate change should be considered an emergency, and that governments and companies should act consequently. While this may not be implying the official declaration of a state of emergency that would warrant restrictions on human rights, States might still reply to climate change by increasing government controls and limiting some rights.


Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser

Amsterdam | London | Luxembourg

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