1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 20

Wednesday, March 9, 2016
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Effects of Climate Change on Human Rights

Inquiry—Debate Suspended

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer rose pursuant to notice of December 9, 2015:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to the human rights implications of climate change, and how it will affect the most vulnerable in Canada and the world by threatening their right to food, water, health, adequate shelter, life, and self-determination.

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on an inquiry on the impact of climate change on human rights.


Typically discussions around climate change revolve around the economy, environment and science. These are all necessary conversations, but more and more information from these fears demands that we ask the question: How will this impact us as humans?


Some studies have been done already, including by the Pentagon, which called climate change a security issue, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which found multiple links between climate change and how its effects stand to violate human rights, particularly the rights of people already living in poverty.


According to the United Nations, there are six major ways in which the effects of climate change will violate human rights. The rights at risk are the right to water, food, adequate shelter, health, life and self-determination. I would like to reflect on these in a little more detail so that we understand what is truly at risk.

The first is the right to water. Water is fundamental for life, yet one in ten people lack access to safe water, and one in three people lack access to a toilet. More people have mobile phones than toilets.

According to the World Economic Forum in January 2015, the water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society. Floods, droughts, changes in temperature and extreme fluctuations are already creating challenges for so many people in the world. This will result in increased water scarcity, contamination and spread of diseases.


In our world today, nearly one billion people already lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. Climate change is only going to make weather conditions more volatile and threaten more people’s rights to safe water.


The second, right to food, requires all-around attention and constant protection of four major areas of concern: food production, food access, food utilization and nutrition. These will all be affected by and put under greater threat by climate change.

According to the World Bank, 702 million people still live in extreme poverty. According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 793 million people are undernourished. These numbers come after two decades of tireless work by humanitarian workers who lifted 200 million people out of hunger, so they are seen as numbers of progress, but over the next two decades the effects of climate change can threaten to reverse the work that has been done to combat the threats to the right to food and make the situation a lot worse for millions of people around the world.


This crisis will see its most significant impacts in rural Africa, but it will also have profound effects here in Canada. Shifts in landforms will change the processes by which our northern communities access their food. Trails will shift due to weather fluctuations, and new transportation will have to be accommodated.

This will have very real effects for Canadians and the global community. Food scarcity is already a battle we are struggling to win. Climate change is increasing the challenges against us in this fight.


The third is the right to health. Climate change is not commonly linked to how it will affect our health or our right to health. Some organizations are already trying to promote awareness of this. Physicians for Global Survival stated, and I quote:


Although few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on their health, the health effects are serious and widespread. Disease, injury and death can result from climate-induced natural disasters, heat-related illness, pest- and waterborne diseases, air and water pollution and damage to crops and drinking water sources.

Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.

What could this look like? To understand this, we do not have to look any further than what is already occurring. The UN Chroniclelooked at the impact of climate change on health and noted that as early as 2000, the World Health Organization attributed 2.4 per cent of worldwide diarrhea and 6 per cent of malaria cases to climate change. The first large-scale quantifiable impacts on human health are likely to be changes to the geographic range and seasonality of some infectious diseases, including vector-borne infections such as malaria and dengue fever, and food-borne infections such as salmonella, which will peak in the warmest months.

We have also begun to identify as climate change casualties the victims of extreme weather events, such as the 27,000 deaths associated with abnormally high temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003. However, the future public health consequences loom even larger.


The fourth is the right to adequate housing. Extreme weather events have already resulted in the displacement of thousands of people. The numbers are going to climb, and fast. The threat of mass displacement is so high that the United Nations has already begun referring to climate refugees.


Those who think this will be a crisis only in sub-Saharan Africa are deeply mistaken. This will also impact adequate housing in Canada. As the current refugee crisis is demonstrating, these situations impact the entire world. The global community will be forced to respond, and, as with any event we have seen that has resulted in catastrophe, the best approach is the one that reduces the possible damages in the first place.

Fifth, the right to life. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life —

The Hon. the Speaker: Excuse me, Senator Jaffer. I regret that I must interrupt you. The minister has arrived. Of course, you will be given the balance of your time to finish your remarks at the next sitting.

(Debate suspended.)

1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 21

Thursday, March 10, 2016
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Effects of Climate Change on Human Rights

Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Jaffer, calling the attention of the Senate to the human rights implications of climate change, and how it will affect the most vulnerable in Canada and the world by threatening their right to food, water, health, adequate shelter, life, and self-determination.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, as you know, yesterday I started an inquiry on climate change and how it affects human rights. Unfortunately we ran out of time, and I would like to finish my inquiry from yesterday.


What this means is that we have a right to live a life without being harmed by others. Climate change, and the human impact that is contributing to it, is affecting the right to life of the most vulnerable in our world. Their livelihood is being harmed as a result of the devastation caused by an increased number of extreme weather events and landform changes. Their chances of sustaining their own lives are being threatened.


As Oxfam International has noted:

In failing to tackle climate change with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people.


The sixth is the right to self-determination. Certain peoples’ right to self-determination will be threatened due to climate change. The fate of entire nations is at stake. With sea levels rising at their current rate, low-lying Pacific Island nations, including Kiribati and Tuvalu, could be submerged within decades. The UN has already begun referring to these peoples as potential climate refugees.


Honourable senators, when we think about the effects of climate change on humanity and economies, we cannot think only about one dimension. Mitigating how the effects are going to impact all of these areas is imperative. As Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, noted in his speech to Lloyd’s:

The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.

So why isn’t more being done to address it?

Honourable senators, this is the question I ask today. Why not?

I want to end by sharing a story with you, written about in an article by Canadian youth activists Craig and Marc Kielburger earlier this year:

Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier remembers the day her neighbour didn’t come home.

Simon Nattaq lives across the street from Watt-Cloutier in Iqaluit, Nunavut. He’s a hunter with decades of experience and traditional knowledge handed down through generations. He knows the land — when it’s safe to go out on the ice. But in February 2001, an unexpected weak spot on a normally safe trail caught him by surprise and his snowmobile plunged through the ice.

Nattaq clambered out of the water and survived until rescuers found him two days later. By then, frostbite had done its work. Both of Nattaq’s legs had to be amputated.

For Watt-Cloutier — a former politician and chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference — the story illustrates how climate change attacks not just the environment, but the very foundations of Inuit knowledge, tradition and identity.

Honourable senators, climate change is going to affect us all — us as Canadians, us as human beings. Today I echo Mr. Carney’s question: Why isn’t more being done to address it?

Thank you for your attention.

(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)