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U.N. human rights body turns to climate change

GENEVA – Climate change could erode the human rights of people living in small island states, coastal areas and parts of the world subjected to drought and floods, the U.N. Human Rights Council said on Friday.

In its first consideration of the issue, the 47-member forum endorsed a resolution stressing that global warming threatens the livelihoods and welfare of many of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The proposal from the Maldives, Comoros, Tuvalu, Micronesia and other countries called for “a detailed analytical study of the relationship between climate change and human rights”, to be conducted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, headed by Louise Arbour.

“Until now, the global discourse on climate change has tended to focus on the physical or natural impacts of climate change,” the Maldives’ ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, told the session.

“The immediate and far-reaching impact of the phenomenon on human beings around the world has been largely neglected,” he said. “It is time to redress this imbalance by highlighting the human face of climate change.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made the fight against climate change one of his top priorities, and encouraged all U.N. agencies to incorporate it into their work.

Experts say global warming could cause rising sea levels and intense storms, droughts and floods which would restrict access to housing, food and clean water for millions of people.

The Human Rights Council, which wraps up its latest four-week session in Geneva on Friday, also agreed to appoint an independent expert to assess countries’ human rights obligations linked to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Under the resolution introduced by Germany and Spain, that expert will clarify what can be done to stop discrimination in their provision.

“This issue is very important for quite a large number of people,” Doru Romulus Costea, Romania’s ambassador who serves as council president, told a news briefing.

Russia voiced concern that the council’s foray into water and sanitation issues may unduly stretch its agenda and complicate its work, and Canadian diplomat Sarah Geh stressed that setting up the post did not create a human right to water.

U.N. member countries have set a goal of halving the proportion of people who lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services — such as toilets — by 2015.

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