The Impending “Climate Apartheid”

In June 2019, the United Nations released a report commenting on the looming effects of climate change on poverty. In this report, the UN referred to the impending issue of a “climate apartheid”, meaning that the divsion between the rich and poor will sharpen regarding the degree to which they bear the burden of climate change. Phillip Alston, a UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, believes our society “scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” Anthropogenic activity is the principle driving force behind global warming. As a result, this human activity will disproportionately threaten the basic human rights, safety, and stability of impoverished populations.

Anthropogenic activity greatly contributes to carbon emissions and an enhanced greenhouse effect. Consequently, as the global surface temperature increases, climate change is becoming more and more urgent. Some of the most pressing ramifications of climate change include food and water insecurity, disease prevalence, habitat destruction, and extreme weather events. While the rich have the resources and opportunities to effectively cope with climate change, the poor will be left behind to bear the burden. For instance, when communities are displaced and forced to migrate due to changing weather patterns, the rich will be able to establish themselves elsewhere. On the other hand, the poor will struggle between the decision to migrate or stay behind. Poor populations narrowly contribute to carbon emissions, yet are hit the hardest by their effects. UN Expert Phillip Alston fears that these disproportionate impacts will threaten progress made in terms of development, economic equality, and minimizing the gap between rich and poor populations. 

The looming possibility of a “climate apartheid” is a human rights crisis, placing the welfare of some of the the poorest populations in jeopardy. However, it is a crisis that humans also have the ability to actively address. This is not only a problem of resource availability and opportunities, but reveals global problems regarding economic equality. It is yet another signal that climate action is needed  before our planet, especially its most vulnerable populations, are damaged beyond repair.

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