Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 12:28 UK

Climate inaction 'costing lives'

Feet on parched soil (Image: AP)
Oxfam says rich nations' carbon footprint are putting lives at risk

Failure to take urgent action to curb climate change is effectively violating the human rights of people in the poorest nations, an aid charity warns.

A report by Oxfam International says emissions, primarily from developed countries, are exacerbating flooding, droughts and extreme weather events.

As a result, harvests are failing and people are losing their homes and access to water, the authors observe.

They say human rights need to be at the heart of global climate policies.

Oxfam will be submitting its report, called Climate Wrongs and Human Rights, to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Righting wrongs

"Climate change was first seen as a scientific problem, then an economic one," explained report author Kate Raworth. "Now it is becoming a matter of international justice.

Rich country polluters have been fully aware of their culpability for many years
Kate Raworth,
Report author

The global impacts of climate change meant that nations had to be held accountable for the consequences of their actions, Ms Raworth said.

"Litigation is seldom the best way to solve a dispute.

"That is why we need a strong UN deal in 2009 to cut emissions and support adaption," she added, referring to next year's key UN climate summit where a future global climate strategy is expected to be agreed.

"However, vulnerable countries do need options to protect themselves. Rich country polluters have been fully aware of their culpability for many years."

In its report, Oxfam International said that ensuring basic human rights was essential to lift people out of poverty and injustice.

"Our staff and local partners work with communities in more than 100 countries, and are increasingly witnessing the devastating effects of more frequent and severe climatic events on poor people's prospects for development," it observed.

It highlighted a number of "hot spots" where current climate policies were failing, including: rich nations' failure to cut emissions; funding for adaption initiatives being "woefully under-resourced"; and industrialised countries failing to help poor nations switch to low-carbon technologies.

Twin-track strategy

In April 2007, a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consisting of hundreds of environmental experts, published a report warning that people living in poverty would be the worst affected by climate change.

Key findings of the report included:

  • 75-250 million people across Africa could face water shortages by 2020
  • Crop yields could increase by 20% in East and Southeast Asia, but decrease by up to 30% in Central and South Asia
  • Agriculture fed by rainfall could drop by 50% in some African countries by 2020
  • 20-30% of all plant and animal species would be at increased risk of extinction if temperatures rose between 1.5-2.5C
  • Glaciers and snow cover are expected to decline, reducing water availability in countries supplied by melt water

Oxfam has called for a twin approach of mitigation and adaption to ensure human rights formed a central pillar of climate policies.

To reduce emissions, it said nations had to implement national and international targets to minimise the risk of global average temperatures exceeding 2C (3.6F).

And to help least developed nations build resilience to unavoidable impacts, Oxfam said the international community had to target adaptation measures on maintaining people's access to water, shelter and healthcare.

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