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Human Rights

Environment: Climate change, a threat to human rights

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Climate change is the most serious environmental problem that the world faces today, having a major impact on the basic elements of human life. This will directly affect a range of fundamental rights: the right to life, suitable living conditions, safety, health, food and water.

There is common agreement among scientists and other experts that human activities are the cause of substantial global warming since the mid-20th century, and that continued growth in greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human-induced emissions will generate high risks of dangerous climate change. Worrying evidence of global climate change continues to mount. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 2010 was the warmest year on record, and the nine other warmest years have all occurred since 1998, while the winter Arctic sea-ice cover reached its lowest level ever since September 2010.

Different regions of the world will be affected by climate change in different ways and different degrees. While it appears that the impacts of climate change have been greatest in regions outside Europe, all European regions will in the future be affected by increased risk of inland flash floods, more frequent coastal flooding and increased erosion (due to storminess and sea-level rise), and by the consequences of increased migration as those who are suffering food and water shortages will seek refuge in other territories.

The COP 16 meeting in Cancún was seen as successful in diplomatic terms, but if the whole planet (and not only its politicians) is to gain from our agreements, much more needs to be done. The declaration on Climate Change made by the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January 2011 stresses the importance of a powerful agreement at the next meeting – in Durban, December 2011.

The initial climate change debate focused on physical and natural impacts; it is now time to take stock of the consequences on human societies. Climate change raises important questions about social justice, equity and human rights across countries and across generations. An inter-secretariat group within the Council of Europe that represents many different entities and sectors has been meeting to exchange information and discuss possible common initiatives. One of these is the organisation of a conference to examine the issue of "climate change and human rights" from various perspectives, to take place in 2012.

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Parliamentary Assembly

The Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities was established in 1952. It deals with issues related to sustainable development from local to global level (protection of the environment, regional planning, natural resources management), as well as sectoral policies (transport, energy).

On the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún 2010, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which the Parliamentary Assembly is associated member, issued an outcome paper together with the Mexican Congress, with the support of UNDP. 

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Bern Convention

''Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment, for present and future generations''

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Commissioner for Human Rights

Climate change is causing an unprecedented, global human rights crisis

The daily lives of millions are already being affected by the effects of global warming: desertification, droughts, flooding or cyclones. Basic human rights - such as the right to food, water, shelter or property - are threatened (more...)

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Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

For the Congress, action against climate change must go beyond reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the use of renewable energy sources. It is also a question of good governance and the right to a healthy environment.

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Forum for the Future of Democracy

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The European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights has developed in its case law a link between the protection of environment and the protection of public health under Article 11 of the European Social Charter and has interpreted this Article as including the right to a healthy environment. Thus, the adherent states are required to… ''take specific steps, such as modifying equipment, introducing threshold values for emissions and measuring air quality, to prevent air pollution at local level and to help to reduce it on a global scale.''

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Directorate General of Democracy (DGII)