Climate change talks must include focus on adequate housing, says UN expert

23 October 2009

The decisions to be taken in Copenhagen in December, when countries hope to reach agreement on a new climate change pact, must fully comply with human rights norms, including the right to adequate housing, an independent United Nations expert said today.

Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said the international debate on climate change has to date focused on issues such as carbon credits and technological innovation.

“However, current discussions are lacking concrete proposals to protect those worst affected by climate change – the poorest and those who live in vulnerable settlements,” she told a news conference in New York. “This is what we must now bring to the core of the climate change debate.”

Global warming is increasing the magnitude and severity of extreme weather events, which often lead to disasters, she said earlier in the day as she presented her report to the General Assembly. Furthermore, the areas exposed to and constantly affected by flooding, landslides and earthquakes still attract the poor because of cheaper land and housing costs.

“Market mechanisms – and unregulated markets – result in locations at risk of flooding and landslides being left for the poorest,” she told reporters. “This population does not have the means to get insurance or move to other places when they are threatened by natural disasters.”

In particular, she emphasized the need for States to prioritize investments for irregular or unplanned settlements. “Those areas must be consolidated, must be urbanized and better protected from climate change-related disasters.”

She added that their inhabitants must be protected without destroying their livelihoods and social organizations. “There is a danger here of using climate change and the [insecurity] of the locations of the poor to promote resettlement and relocation of these communities to so-called safer places.”

The State must observe human rights norms so as to treat people with dignity, to safeguard due process, and to ensure appropriate housing alternatives and not just temporary shelter, said Ms. Rolnik.

She said this is crucial given the lessons learned from past disasters, particularly in post-tsunami reconstruction. In some countries, certain villages were entirely relocated to resettle the inhabitants in safer locations and were never given the opportunity to return to their lands. But then the vacant lands became tourist resorts.

“So it was not safe enough for the people to live there but it was suitable for tourist or commercial or industrial purposes,” she noted.

On mitigation and adaptation strategies, Ms. Rolnik stress that States must ensure that measures intended to protect people from the effects of climate change do not result in the unintended violation of other human rights.

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