UN says environmental threats pose ‘greatest challenge to human rights’

ATHENS, GREECE - AUGUST 06: A view of wildfire in Adames area, in northern Athens, Greece on August 06, 2021. Thousands of people fled their homes north of Athens on Tuesday as a wildfire broke out of the forest and reached residential areas. (Photo by Dimitris Lampropoulos/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A view of wildfire in the Adames area, in northern Athens, Greece. /Getty Images

The UN rights chief warned Monday that environmental threats were worsening conflicts worldwide and would soon constitute the biggest challenge to human rights.

Michelle Bachelet said climate change, pollution and nature loss were already severely impacting rights across the board and said countries were consistently failing to take the necessary action to curb the damage.

“The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations,” Bachelet told the opening of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era.”

The former Chilean president said the threats were already “directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself”.

She said environmental damage usually hurts the poorest people and nations the most, as they often have the least capacity to respond.

Bachelet said recent months have unleashed “extreme and murderous climate events”, citing the fires in Siberia and California, and floods in China, Germany and Turkey.

She also said drought was potentially forcing millions of people into misery, hunger and displacement.

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