Our Obligation to Humanity in the Face of Climate Change

Earth globe with flames, symbol for global warming, climate change
Earth globe with flames, symbol for global warming, climate change

Even if the ever-mounting evidence that climate change is and will disastrously affect our lives is proven otherwise, it behooves us to prepare for it and to mitigate its risks and threats. This is what any reasonable government, military, company or organization would do for unexpected scenarios. In the humanitarian world it's called the 'less-likely' or 'worst-case' scenario.

Fortunately, we have taken the first steps. The entry into force, this month, of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the 2015 Adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Core Commitments of the World Humanitarian Summit based on the UN's Agenda for Humanity of 2016; and the entire body of Human Rights instruments, reflect and guide our collective responsibility to prevent, manage and reverse the disaster impact of climate change.

Our global responsibility entails unpacking existing evidence of trends and current impacts, while also taking appropriate action. We have to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and look holistically and globally at economies, poverty, education, trade and human rights. And again, even if we are wrong about climate change, we will end up building a better world to equally serve humanity in all its corners.

Meanwhile, let's take a few figures from the NASA website to illustrate what global warming means. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. Sea levels are rising by 3.4 mm a year. 281 gigatonnes of land ice is today lost annually. Arctic Sea ice is disappearing at a rate of over 13% per decade. At the same time, around the world, our activities increased emissions of greenhouse gases by 35 percent from 1990 to 2010.

The increase in meteorological events, storms, floods, heat-waves, droughts over the last 50 years supports the impact of global warming on disasters. These events, however, most severely impact the poorest, most destitute, least protected populations in the world, where weak infrastructure, poor basic services and capacities hugely affects people's ability to cope with and recover from disaster. As the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) stated 'These impacts constitute a serious interference with the exercise of fundamental human rights, such as the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and an adequate standard of living.'

The most visible human impact of global warming on disasters comes in the form of displacement. Increasingly, we have seen millions fleeing hurricanes, floods, and other weather-related events. In 2010, this figure was 32 million (or several million more than the population of Texas). That same year, 27.5 million fled from conflicts - many of which are related to increasingly uneven distribution of resources, development and services. In these situations, an already poor history of compliance with human rights instruments is only further exacerbated in the unchecked race to control resources.

The millions ready to risk their lives in ramshackle boats to cross from Africa to Europe will tell us why.

Their governments are unable or unwilling to provide basic human rights, services, opportunities and equality for their populations. It is a vicious cycle of limited resources and opportunities leading to conflict and denial of basic rights.

Climate change and human rights go hand-in-hand, as do (or should) legal agreements and political action. Our topmost obligation is thus to translate our commitments into action, while empowering these populations to change their lives and environment in a sustainable way. The alternative is humanity at peril.

We can't take that risk. Yasmine Sherif is a human rights lawyer and UN veteran with over 25 years of international experience, and the author of the Case for Humanity: An Extraordinary Session. http://bit.ly/case4humanity This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 22nd Conference of the Parties(COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.