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Human rights for the climate 'apocalypse'

  • 19 December 2019


If you live on the east coast of Australia then you, like me, have probably been choking on smoke haze for weeks now. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling as though this eerie, apocalyptic atmosphere is a grim reminder of the future we're heading into.

If you're even less lucky, you might be living in one of the many regional towns across NSW that are rapidly running out of water. In some places, there's even talk of evacuation. Tuesday was also the hottest day ever recorded in Australia. Ever. And the rest of this week is a heatwave that's unprecedented for this time of year — with some areas set to hit 50C.

Toxic air, dwindling water supplies, extreme heat: it's pretty bleak stuff.

And yet, on Sunday afternoon, the UN Climate Change Conference — COP 25 — finished up with very little progress. Although governments recognised that we are currently heading for +3C, and that new short-term targets are urgently needed, few new targets were set, and little progress was made on other fronts. As a result, we way off track to meet the already inadequate Paris target of limiting warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

In the face of existential threat, and our new visceral appreciation of what it feels like to live on a rapidly warming planet, it is easy to feel as though confronting climate change is the only relevant game in town. But the fact is, we can't tackle climate change through individual action alone.

Incredibly, research has found that just 20 companies are responsible for over a third of global carbon emissions, while another 70 companies are responsible for a further third of emissions. What this means is that even if you go vegan, adopt a zero waste lifestyle, ditch your car, switch to renewables, and plant hundreds of trees (and, look, this would all be awesome), our planet is still going to warm to +3C or higher, unless we also do something about the vested interests that continue to profit from our demise. And they aren't going to give up their power (or profits) just because we ask nicely, which is where human rights come in.

Human rights are often legitimately criticised as elite liberal tools that work to uphold the status quo, but we need them right now more than ever. We particularly need our rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful protest, in order to