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'A Significant Moment': UN Panel Demands to Know What US Is Doing to Protect Human Rights Amid Climate Crisis

"It is becoming clearer and clearer that states cannot protect human rights without urgently addressing climate change."

The United Nations called on the U.S. to submit information about what it has done to protect the right to life from the climate crisis. In recent years the U.S. has seen increasingly destructive weather events wreak havoc on American communities, including the flooding that Houston experienced after Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The world's oldest human rights panel took an historic step Thursday when it demanded to know what the U.S. has done to protect Americans and all people from the effects of the climate crisis.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee asked the U.S. government to provide information on the policies it has implemented to defend the "right to life" from the changing climate.

The group's request reads:

Further clarify the State party's initiatives to address significant threats to the right to life posed by impacts of climate change such as flash floods, coastal flooding, wildfires, infectious disease, extreme heat and air pollution.


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It's the first time the panel has called on any nation to specifically address the actions it has taken to ensure human rights are not being violated as the climate crisis contributes to extreme weather events, housing insecurity, and public health crises. The demand came as part of the United States' requirement to periodically report on human rights issues to the Committee.

Groups which have pushed President Donald Trump and previous administrations to drastically reduce carbon emissions and take other steps to stem the climate crisis issued their own responses on Thursday.

"As climate-related events across the United States have demonstrated again and again over the past few years, climate change is taking an increasing toll on human life," said Sébastien Duyck of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). "The request of the Human Rights Committee indicates that the U.S.'s international legal obligation to protect the right to life requires action to address the threats posed to that right caused by climate change."

The U.N. Advocate for the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) noted that the Human Rights Committee's request regarding the climate crisis signals an important step for a group whose work has generally been limited to addressing more widely-recognized human rights violations including torture and capital punishment.

"This is a significant moment, as the Human Rights Committee...has recognized that the impacts of climate change are so serious as to rise to the level of a threat to the right to life," said Lucy McKernan. "It is becoming clearer and clearer that states cannot protect human rights without urgently addressing climate change."

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