Millions of people's rights at risk from climate change, says UN expert

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Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri said environmental disasters displace more people than wars. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

Climate change took centre stage at the UN Human Rights Council where member states heard how it threatens the fundamental rights of millions of people.

Among the most vulnerable are communities in low-lying island states who face being forced from their homes by rising sea levels within decades.

The discussion at the UN headquarters in Geneva comes ahead of a key meeting to craft a global agreement on climate change in Paris in December. Daniel Johnson has more.

Opening the debate, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri described how climate change undercuts rights to health, food, water and sanitation.

The deputy high commissioner also highlighted the impending humanitarian disaster faced by millions of people in Pacific island states.

She said that their rights to housing and even basic citizenship were threatened as rising sea levels pushed them not only from their homes, but into a stateless no-man's land too.

"Environmental disasters nowadays displace more people than wars do."

Stressing that it was only a matter of decades before islands such as Kiribati and Tuvalu disappeared beneath the waves, Deputy High Commissioner Pansieri said it wasn't "just a matter of packing up and moving elsewhere" for affected communities.

That's because government buildings, courts, hospitals and schools will vanish too, she said, meaning that these "climate change refugees" risked becoming stateless unless they could convince other governments to give them passports, welfare and protection.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations.

Duration: 1'00"

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