Climate crisis threatens basic human rights – report

Young climate activists, In September 2022, calling for the adoption of a climate charter to "end hunger, thirst, pollution and climate harms.” Archive photo by Vincent Lali

“Climate change is still largely a misunderstood issue for much of the public, and climate change literacy is low in South Africa.”

A report released by Section27 on Wednesday has revealed that the April 2022 floods that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal, were a striking example of how the climate change crisis affects school infrastructure and the right to access basic education. Titled, Climate Change as a Human Rights Risk: A Resource for Health and Education Rights Activists in South Africa, the report illuminates the serious effects of climate change on the basic human rights of children and women. 

“Organisations that work on human rights, such as the right to basic education and the right to healthcare services, must ensure that the state transitions away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. This is an urgent mitigation task if we are to arrest global warming and avoid the worst possible consequences of climate change,” the report states. 

Impacts of climate change on health and education

According to the report, six human rights that are enshrined in the South African Bill of Rights are threatened by the climate crisis. These are the right to equality, the right to life and human dignity, the right to an environment that is not harmful to one’s health or well-being, the rights to healthcare, to food, water and social security, and children’s rights.

“Children’s health is a critical aspect of climate change as they are vulnerable to the direct effects thereof, such as floods, temperature change, drought and wildfire, as well as indirect effects such as infectious disease, food insecurity and air pollution,” states the report. 

It also notes that these consequences of climate change are not the only effects of climate change on children’s health. “Children also experience risk to their well-being because of being displaced by extreme weather. Being exposed to violence as communities contest each other for the control of natural resources, and because they must rely on parents and communities to protect them,” says the report. 

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Tatiana Kazim, a legal researcher at the Equal Education Law Centre, says basic education is always left out when there are engagements about climate change. “During the floods in KwaZulu-Natal recently, over 630 schools were damaged. As civil society we need to work together and seek sufficient resources to fight climate disruption, as climate change increases already existing inequality,” said Kazim. 

Torrential rain in April 2019 left a swathe of destruction in informal settlements in and around Durban. Photo by Elitsha reporter

Halt climate-destroying activities and decisions       

Brandon Abdinor, acting head of the Pollution and Climate Change Programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights, said climate change is still largely a misunderstood issue for much of the public, and climate change literacy is low in South Africa. “Given that climate impacts will intensify over the coming years and decades, it is future generations who will bear the brunt of the impacts of a warming planet. The youth therefore need to be consulted with an even higher degree of transparency and commitment than is the norm. Decision-makers need to take this future effect into account and listen carefully to those who will pay the price for continued fossil fuel use and environmental degradation,” said Abdinor. He told Elitsha that there needs to be a critical mass of people who say no to climate harming activities, such as burning of fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems such as wetlands, grasslands and forests.

Basic education and climate crisis

The report also sternly notes that the basic education sector is directly affected by climate change. “There are also indirect impacts to education; for example, impacts associated with food insecurity, air pollution and health. Yet the basic education sector is hardly involved in climate change discourse,” warns the report.

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It also underlined that education is crucial to increasing the resilience of children and families against climate change. “Educated children and families fare much better in the face of climate shocks, as they are more empowered and adaptive in their response to climate change; children and families with lower levels of education fare much worse,” the report also cautions. 

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About Chris Gilili 70 Articles
Chris Gilili, a 23 year old freelance journalist based in East London. Graduated from Walter Sisulu University media studies school in 2015. Had a stint with Independent Media, in sports writing. Passionate about news and the media.