Climate Change, Human Rights, and Social Justice

Ann Glob Health. May-Jun 2015;81(3):310-22. doi: 10.1016/j.aogh.2015.08.008.

Abstract

The environmental and health consequences of climate change, which disproportionately affect low-income countries and poor people in high-income countries, profoundly affect human rights and social justice. Environmental consequences include increased temperature, excess precipitation in some areas and droughts in others, extreme weather events, and increased sea level. These consequences adversely affect agricultural production, access to safe water, and worker productivity, and, by inundating land or making land uninhabitable and uncultivatable, will force many people to become environmental refugees. Adverse health effects caused by climate change include heat-related disorders, vector-borne diseases, foodborne and waterborne diseases, respiratory and allergic disorders, malnutrition, collective violence, and mental health problems. These environmental and health consequences threaten civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, including rights to life, access to safe food and water, health, security, shelter, and culture. On a national or local level, those people who are most vulnerable to the adverse environmental and health consequences of climate change include poor people, members of minority groups, women, children, older people, people with chronic diseases and disabilities, those residing in areas with a high prevalence of climate-related diseases, and workers exposed to extreme heat or increased weather variability. On a global level, there is much inequity, with low-income countries, which produce the least greenhouse gases (GHGs), being more adversely affected by climate change than high-income countries, which produce substantially higher amounts of GHGs yet are less immediately affected. In addition, low-income countries have far less capability to adapt to climate change than high-income countries. Adaptation and mitigation measures to address climate change needed to protect human society must also be planned to protect human rights, promote social justice, and avoid creating new problems or exacerbating existing problems for vulnerable populations.

Keywords: climate change; human rights; inequalities; low-income countries; public health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Climate Change*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Disease Vectors
  • Drinking Water
  • Foodborne Diseases
  • Global Health*
  • Global Warming
  • Heat Stress Disorders
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition
  • Public Health
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases
  • Social Justice*
  • Waterborne Diseases

Substances

  • Drinking Water