Climate change undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale

Published: 15th December 2009

Verdict Delivered At World’s First International Climate Hearing

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a global verdict on the human cost of climate change today.
The judgment was passed at the world’s first international climate hearing, hosted by Oxfam International during Humanitarian Day at the Copenhagen Climate Summit. It was later passed to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, to ensure its delivery to the 192 countries currently negotiating the climate deal.
Joined by climate-affected people from Bangladesh, Peru, Uganda and the USA, Robinson announced that climate change was “undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale.”
“International human rights law says that ‘in no case may a people be deprived of its means of subsistence’. Yet because of excessive carbon emissions, produced primarily by industrialised countries, millions of the world’s poorest people’s rights are being violated every day. This is a deep and global injustice,” said Robinson.

Over 1.5 million people have testified

Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew on his own experience of climate change and called on world leaders not to let the voices of the most vulnerable fall on deaf ears:
“I too, stand before you as a witness. I have seen with my own eyes the changes in my homeland, South Africa. The Southern Cape is currently experiencing the worst drought anyone can remember. There is not enough food. There is too little water. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate.”
“This is our only chance to succeed in the word’s most important battle. I trust that those with the power to influence will have truly listened today. Justice cannot wait,” said Tutu.
The international climate hearing was the culmination of thousands of Oxfam-supported hearings carried out in 35 countries this year. Over one and a half million people joined the hearings to testify that climate change is destroying their lives and livelihoods.

"Rich nations must compensate us"

Constance Okollet, a farmer for Uganda said: “Violent floods and long droughts have caused hunger, death and homelessness in my village. As farmers we used to be able to rely on the seasons, but now we don’t know when to plant, cultivate or sow. At first I thought god must be punishing us. Then I realized this was man made. Rich nations must compensate us for the damage they have done.”
With just four days until the summit closes and still no money on the table for long-term support to poor nations, the climate hearing provided a stark reminder of the human cost of further delay.
Climate change is affecting every issue linked to poverty today. From death to hunger, disasters to displacement, the cost of delay is criminal,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “We’ve been waiting two years for this critical deal. With just four days to go, it's time for governments to stop sidestepping their responsibilities and do the deal that’s needed for all of us.”

Read more

Photos of the witnesses of the International Climate Hearing
Read about other climate hearings hosted by Oxfam

Blog- International climate hearing: "1.5 million people. act now save lives"
Seven questions – and seven answers – on climate change and Copenhagen

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From death to hunger, disasters to displacement, the cost of delay is criminal.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director of Oxfam International

Notes to editors

  • Available to broadcasters: A free pool feed (in mini dv) containing pieces to camera and b-roll of everyday life and climate impacts on Constance Okollet from Uganda and Cayetano Huanca from Peru, as well as general b-roll of thousands of people attending climate hearings in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and South Africa. Natural sound and natural light filmed in PAL, ratio:16:9.
  • Available to print and online journalists: High resolution photos, testimonies and real-life stories from Oxfam’s climate witnesses and climate hearings from around the world.
  • International Humanitarian Day: Oxfam’s International Climate Hearing is part of International Humanitarian Day on 15 Dec 2009.  A coalition of humanitarian actors, including NGOs, IGOs, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and UN family (also known as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, or IASC), will join forces on 15 Dec to raise awareness of the human impact of climate change and call for action at a high level.  A number of events will be taking place throughout the day including: a leaders of today, young leaders of tomorrow event including Oxfam Chinese youth activist Xiao Xin; a press conference on how to help the most vulnerable adapt to climate change, with speakers including: John Holmes, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam Great Britain and Dr. Dessima Williams, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN for Grenada.

Oxfam International is a confederation of independent organizations from 14 countries around the world. It works to help others to tackle poverty.

Oxfam is a member of the tcktcktck campaign - a global coalition of environment and development organizations, faith and youth groups and unions that is calling for a fair, ambitious and binding climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009.