Page 1

TEIMUN 2011 The Next Generation, defining the future of global governance


The Human Rights Council

The impact of Climate Change on the Right to Water and Sanitation Background Paper


Foreword ................................................................................................................................................. 2 List of abbreviations ................................................................................................................................ 3 Introduction............................................................................................................................................. 3 Historical and Legal Background ............................................................................................................. 4 Current Situation ..................................................................................................................................... 5 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................. 13 Questions to ponder.............................................................................................................................. 15 Bibliography........................................................................................................................................... 16 Further readings / Websites to consult ................................................................................................. 17


Foreword The relatively “young” Human Right to Right to Water and Sanitation was a big and important step towards establishing a legal framework and international acknowledgement of this right. The access and provision of water and sanitation is still not guaranteed by far for a great number of the world’s population. But what happens if we add the stressor climate change to the equation? In a context where nearly a billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than the double of that number does not have access to sanitation, climate change constitutes an added obstacle and a concern to the human right. Climate change will, and already does, impact on people’s rights to water and sanitation As chairs we hope that the actuality of the topic will inspire our delegates to an animated and fruitful debate, as both climate change and its consequences – such as water scarcity – are of global concern. It is our hope, that this guide will provide you with further detailed information on the possible issues of the negotiation and to provide every delegation with the equal level of information. We encourage our delegates to bring up issues of their national interest as the topic bears a lot of interesting and globally crucial points of discussion. Discussing climate change and its effects, we do not expect a resolution that tries to find overall solutions neither to repeat empty phrases. We are confident, though, that the

discussion will lead to interesting and stimulation approaches on the topic and may bring those together with the thoughts that have already been made. Anna Alberts & Stefanie Zauner HRC Chairs, TEIMUN 2011

List of abbreviations CESCR – Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights COP15 – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ODA – Official Development Assistance UNDP – United Nations Development Programme UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund UPR – Universal Periodic Review WHO – World Health Organization

Introduction It is well-known that climate change represents a serious threat to the environment. Less discussed, however, is that climate change can also adversely affect the fundamental human rights of present and future generations, such as the recently right to water and sanitation. Marginalized groups, whether in industrialized or developing countries and across all cultures and boundaries, are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change.1 With over 2.6 billion people living without access to improved sanitation facilities, and nearly 900 million people not receiving their drinking-water from improved water sources, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights in its GLAAS report from 2010, the problems in


United Nations Joint Press Kit for Bali Climate Change Conference (2007)

achieving Millennium Development Goal 7 (to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation by 2015).2 Considering the current situation, climate change can even drastically exacerbate the existing problems. Many of the worst predicted impacts of climate change will be mediated through water systems, compromising access to sanitation and water for personal and household uses, thereby indirectly undermining a wide range of other human rights. 3 The challenge is now to establish the impact – may it be positive or negative – in order to take timely measures to ensure the human right to water and sanitation also for future generations.

Historical and Legal Background When considering the human rights impact of climate change, it is important to recall that all human rights are “indivisible, interdependent and interrelated”4. The principle applies to all human rights whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security, health and education; or collective rights, such as the right to development. The improvement of one right contributes to the advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right affects the others.5 The last decade brought a lot of work done on the field of the impact of climate change on human rights. On 28 March 2008, the Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on “human rights and climate change”, resolution 7/23, and on 25 March 2009, resolution 10/4 “Human rights and climate change” was adopted. In implementation of the two above mentioned resolutions, the Council’s study and a summary of the Council’s discussions was made available to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15) 2009 for its consideration.6


WHO (2010): p. IIf Independent Expert (n.d.): p.50 4 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – What are human rights; 5 United Nations Joint Press Kit for Bali Climate Change Conference (2007): p.1 6 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Human rights and climate change; 3

2010 was an important year for declaring safe access to water and sanitation a human right. On 28 July, 2010, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 64/292 initiated by Bolivia, which acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are integral to the realization of all human rights.7 Only two month later, on September 2010, by passing their “Resolution on Human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation”8 the UN Human Rights Council, affirmed that the right to water and sanitation are part of existing international law and thus legally binding. The next step on the agenda will be to bring those to important threads of discussion – “climate change” and “human right to water and sanitation” – together, so that the relating issues will permeate the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.9

Current Situation “Climate change has evolved in a very short period of time from an abstract philosophical and scientific issue, to an urgent life-saving imperative for a rapidly increasing number of people. When the earth’s atmosphere grows warmer, nature becomes unstable. *…+ The most important impacts are likely to affect natural assets that underpin human existence water, food, and health.”10 “The hydrological cycle is expected to intensify, which essentially means more droughts and floods, and more variable and extreme rainfall. Generation-old patterns of rainfall may be shifting with corresponding consequences for plants, animals, and people.”11 With regard to water, it is significant to note that currently 30 countries with a combined total population of over 500 million are considered water-scarce (less than 1000m3 of renewable water available), a condition which by the year 2025 is likely to affect some 50 countries with a combined population of about three billion people.12 The set of outcomes can be two-fold: water scarcity or water surplus, e.g. causing rising sea levels.


The Right to Water and Sanitation – International timeline; 8 Ibid. 9 Independent Expert (n.d.): p.46f 10 Sachs (2008), p. 333 11 Ibid 12 Shah, et al. (2006): p. 241f

Regions where water scarcity is likely to increase due to climate change include central and southern Africa, central and southern America, and the watersheds around the Mediterranean, while south and east Asia are likely to see an increase in water resources.13 Some of the most vulnerable regions for rising sea levels, on the other hand, are the Nile delta in Egypt, the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, and many small islands around the world.14

The contribution of climate change to declining water availability (2009). Source: UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library;

The five dimensions of impact The requirement for a climate change impact assessments in the context of the right to water is specifically acknowledged in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (CESCR) “General Comment No. 15”15 The Independent Expert on the issue – as well


Sachs (2008), p. 333 Ibid 15 Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (2002): Art. 28/e 14

as other authors on the topic – classifies the impact of climate change on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation into five dimensions:16 Availability First of all, the availability of sufficient water and sanitation for everybody is at stake. But what is “sufficient”? “General Comment No. 15”’s definition is that “the amount of water made available should conform to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Some individuals or groups may require additional amounts due to health, climate or work conditions”.17 The overall availability of water will be seriously impacted by climate change mainly through drought, the decline in water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover, and flooding. Increased water scarcity will result in increased competition among the actors who use the good (households, industries, farmers, etc.). Groundwater levels around the world are declining due to groundwater pumping surpassing groundwater recharge rates. Drinking water availability will decrease due to a worsening of water quality in the course of water pollution and salinization. Areas that are already relatively dry, such as the Middle East and North Africa and parts of Southern Africa, South and Central Asia and South America, are likely to experience further decreases in water availability.18 Many deltas in the world currently face water shortages which may be accentuated due to climate change and pollution. In the Small Island Developing States, water sources will be seriously compromised due to rising sea levels, changes in rainfall and increased evaporation.19 Water availability is also likely to be reduced due to the decline of water supplies stored in glaciers and snow covers. As these glaciers retreat due to global warming, river flows are increased in the short term, but the contribution of glacier melt will gradually decrease over the next few decades. Melting glaciers will increase flood risk during the wet season and strongly reduce dry-season water supplies to one-sixth of the world’s population, predominantly in the Indian sub-continent, parts of China, and the Andes in South America. 16

Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 17ff Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (2002): Art. 12/a 18 Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 18 19 Ibid. 17

On the other hand, river flows will decrease in the long-term, because many glaciers are expected to disappear and as a consequence people living in the river areas will lack the amount of water they need and used to get from the rivers.20 Bearing all those natural factors in mind, it is important to emphasize, that the availability or respectively scarcity of water is also due to political decisions. “The lack of sufficient access to water for household use is more a function of power, poverty and inequality, and a failure of governments to prioritise water allocation for basic needs and human dignity, than it is about scarcity per se”21 Quality Secondly, the above mentioned “General Comment No. 15” states that” water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Furthermore, water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use”22 Climate change will negatively impact on the quality of water in many parts of the world. Increasing water temperatures, higher or lower groundwater levels, floods and droughts raise the threat of heightened micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards in drinking water. Floods and droughts will exacerbate many forms of water pollution such as sediments, nutrients, organic carbon, pathogens and pesticides, and may distribute human excreta and its attendant health risks across entire neighbourhoods and communities. Sea level rise will increase salinisation of groundwater, seriously impacting the health of the population. This will promote algal blooms and increase the bacterial and fungal content. This will, in turn, impact adversely upon ecosystems, human health, and the reliability and operating costs of water systems. Rapidly growing urbanization combined with increasing demand for freshwater and non-existent or inadequate sanitation infrastructure poses a threat to public health and increases water-borne diseases. Sanitation systems may


Ibid., p.19 Ibid, p.19f 22 Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (2002): Art. 12/b 21

be damaged by flooding and infrastructural deterioration caused by extreme weather conditions, interrupting services and further compromising the quality of drinking water.23 Accessibility Another dimension on which climate change may have an impact is the accessibility of water and sanitation infrastructure.













Consulting “General Comment No. 15” again, “Water and water facilities and services have to be accessible to everyone without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the State party”24 There must be “physical accessibility” (people must be able to reach the facilities within a reasonable distance and time and be allowed to use them), “economic accessibility” (people must be able to afford the facilities), “non-discrimination” (everybody must have equal access) and “information accessibility”25


Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 20f Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (2002): Art. 12/c 25 Ibid., Art. 12/c 24

Rain-generated floods and landslides will deteriorate existing water and sanitation infrastructure, especially where these are not located within the house. Physical accessibility of water sources and sanitation facilities can be affected by climate change, for example where extreme weather events render it impossible to arrive at the water source or sanitation facility. Droughts also present serious risks, causing water wells and dams to dry up, contributing to water shortages in rural areas. Where there is too little water for waterborne sanitation systems, the latter systems may become blocked. Dry sanitation is likely to be more resilient to the threat of water scarcity than waterborne sanitation infrastructure. Where groundwater levels rise, latrines may pollute the groundwater that is necessary for supplying people with drinking water. Potential indirect effects of climate change on sanitation and water supply include the impacts of energy interruptions, increasing the unreliability of piped water and sewerage services.26 Affordability Based on the law of supply and demand, less availability of potable water and sanitation services, due to several climate-induced reasons, will lead to higher prices for using the services. The human rights to water and sanitation does not require States to provide water or sanitation services free of charge, but according to “General Comment No. 15”, States must ensure that “water is affordable for everyone”27, also where the service is provided privately28 as well as that “poorer households should not be disproportionately burdened with water expenses as compared to richer households”29. The rise of costs trough the impact of climate change on the availability and quality of water and sanitation may deepen poverty, exacerbate health problems and thus impede development and increase the risk of conflict and instability as well as plainly depriving some people of their human right to water and sanitation.30 Acceptability The last dimension is acceptability. Water facilities and services must be “culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, lifecycle and privacy requirements” (“General Comment 26

Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 21f Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (2002): Art. 26 28 Ibid., Art. 24 29 Ibid., Art. 27 30 Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 23 27

No. 15). Personal sanitation is still a highly sensitive issue across regions and cultures and differing perspectives about which sanitation solutions are acceptable must be taken into account regarding design, positioning and conditions for use of sanitation facilities. In many cultures, to be acceptable, toilets, for example, have to ensure privacy or separate facilities for women and men required in public places, as well as for girls and boys in schools. As water distribution patterns change dramatically, problems of acceptability of adaptation strategies will arise.31

The main victims – women, children and the poor


According to the UNDP, countries with high levels of income inequality will experience the effects of climate disasters more profoundly than more equal societies, thus hitting predominantly poor communities in developing countries. 32 Overall, the impacts will be felt most acutely by those who are already in vulnerable situations due to factors such as poverty, gender, age, minority status, and/or disability. Especially vulnerable groups are inhabitants of informal settlements in developing countries’ cities or other individuals and groups who have traditionally faced difficulties in exercising the right to water and sanitation such as indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, migrant workers, prisoners and detainees.33


Ibid. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2007): p.80 33 Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 24 32

“Women and girls face specific obstacles to the enjoyment of their rights to water and sanitation and bear the brunt of increasing water scarcity and poverty. They are most often the ones sacrificing their time and development opportunities to fetch water, are frequently responsible for the provision of food and water in the household, and face particular challenges in accessing sufficient, safe and culturally appropriate sanitation facilities. Therefore women and girls will often be disproportionately affected by the adverse impacts of climate change upon the rights to water and sanitation. Moreover, recent research by the United










disproportionately affect children by exacerbating existing health risks and disrupting the natural resource base sustaining nutrition and water security, among numerous other factors. Extreme weather events and reduced quantity and quality of water already are leading causes of malnutrition and child death and illness, including through poor sanitation. “34

Negative impact on other human rights35 Climate change, by negatively affecting the right to water and sanitation, may also have an indirect impact on other rights, inter alia elaborated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights36 as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights37, such as: The right to food: A lack of water could hurt crops and mean that less food is grown. The right to an adequate standard of living: Less food from crops would mean that farmers would make less money and that food prices would go up, exacerbating poverty. The right to education and the right to rest and leisure: In many rural areas across Africa and Asia, it is women and girls who collect water. If there is no water nearby, they may have to travel for days. Apart from the risks such a journey bears, girls also have little time left to attend school, which raises gender inequality. The right to health: Diseases develop or spread easily when the water is dirty. 34

Ibid. The United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UNA-UK) (2008) 36 UN General Assembly (1948) 37 UN General Assembly (1966) 35

The right to shelter: Families and entire communities could be forced to move to find adequate water supplies. The right to security: As communities move to find safe water, competition over these water supplies could turn into (armed) conflict.

Conclusion As this paper has shown, climate change can pose serious threats to the human right to water and sanitation. But the analysis cannot stop at a simple assessment on climate change’s mere effect on water and sanitation, but has to take the various side-effects into account. Thus, a clear-cut line that starts with climate change and ends with whether there are enough water and sanitation facilities, cannot be drawn. As a consequence, policies should not only tackle the outcomes but also the sources. “Most of the work related to climate change has so far focused on the development and implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies. In a positive move recently, the promotion of sustainable development and poverty reduction are increasingly being brought into the equation. Today, a much needed step forward in the direction would be to fully integrate human rights when meeting the climate change challenges. A rights-based approach to tackling climate change will bring human beings back to the centre of the discussion and enrich international efforts in addressing climate change.”38 Additionally, in assessing the impact of climate change on the human right to water and sanitation, the concept of climate change opens up from being considered as a mainly ecological problem, to being a potential harm for people all over the world, increasing the already existing inequalities and hindering the development of many regions of the world. “The false dichotomy between environmental friendly measures and economic growth has clouded the international discourse on climate change. In fact, ample evidence suggests that the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting. Climate change, if left unchecked, could have a very serious impact on growth and development.”39

38 39

Ibid. United Nations Joint Press Kit for Bali Climate Change Conference (2007)

One suggested way in order to prevail even more climate-induced harm to the human right to water and sanitation is through “education, communications and awareness-raising about the linkages between these issue areas, in order that cross-sectoral constituencies within civil society can organise more effectively and exert strengthened pressure for change.” 40 On the States-level, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in its Position Paper on “Climate Change and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation” 41, gives some general recommendations:42 States must:  Ensure the rights to water and sanitation are protected in all adaptation plans and programmes at global, regional and national levels.  Prioritize access to water for essential domestic purposes and for sanitation.  Ensure resilience of water and sanitation infrastructure as a major climate adaptation measure.  Further explore sanitation technologies which offer alternatives to water-borne sanitation.  Prioritize climate change interventions to protect or ensure access to safe drinking water and to sanitation for marginalized or groups which are discriminated against, who risk suffering the most from climate change.  Ensure participation of concerned communities and stakeholders in local and national adaptation efforts.  Build on local and traditional knowledge to increase the likelihood of adaptation measures to ensure adequate access to water and sanitation.  Ensure that accountability and compliance mechanisms are established for States’ decision making on adaptation and mitigation.  Ensure adequate and flexible financing mechanisms, to speed up investment in water management of vulnerable developing countries, to meet the consequences of climate change, in conformity with human rights.


Independent Expert (n.d.): p. 49f UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (n.d.) 42 Ibid, p.6 41

 Devote additional funding to development and support of adaptive strategies for vulnerable groups and ecosystems. These resources should be additional to official development assistance (ODA) commitments.  Manage the unpredictable: as countries start developing systems to manage uncertainties and increasing risks, ensuring availability, access and quality of drinking water and sanitation should be considered as crucial components of risk management  Promote a human rights based approach to Integrated Water Resources Management, emphasizing participation, non-discrimination, and accountability.

Questions to ponder 

The state has been responsible for delivering human rights; this will not change. States have also been obliged to regulate the activities of third parties to ensure that they do not violate human rights.43 With the rise in power of large transnational corporations and the weakening of many states relative to this power, what are corporations’ responsibilities relative to human rights, and what are the obligations of the states to effectively regulate the private sector to ensure human rights?

Is there a clear definition of what constitutes dangerous climate change?

What measures are there to facilitate the adaptation to unavoidable climate change without putting the human right to water and sanitation at risk?

How can the discriminatory impact of climate change on the human right to water and sanitation be prevented or alleviated?

How can the indirect impact on other human rights and the negative outcomes (such as e.g. a higher risk of conflict) be addressed in the UN framework?


Blue Planet Project (2010), p. 24

Could compensatory payments for polluted drinking-water be necessary / be considered a solution? Who would have to pay them? Or would they just treat the symptoms but leave the causes of pollution untouched?

Should the Human Rights Council (and if yes, how?) revise the reporting guidelines for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process to ensure that national reports address threats to the human rights to water and sanitation linked to climate change?

Bibliography Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (2002): General Comment No. 15;$FILE/G03402 29.pdf Independent Expert (Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation) (n.d.): Climate Change and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Position Paper; anitation.pdf Shah, Mahendra M./Günther Fischer / Harrij vanVelthuizen (2006): Food,Water, Health, and Infectious Disease. Focus on Global Change; In: Interactions Between Global Change and Human Health, 2006); p 230-251; 106.pdf The Right to Water and Sanitation – International timeline; United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UNA-UK) (2008): Child Rights and Climate Change; te_Change.pdf

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2007): Human Development Report 2007/8, Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World; UN General Assembly (1948): The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; UN General Assembly (1966): The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; United Nations Joint Press Kit for Bali Climate Change Conference (2007): The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The human rights impact of climate change; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – What are human rights; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Human rights and climate change; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (n.d.):Climate Change and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Position Paper; WHO (2010): UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS); WHO/UNICEF (2010): Progress on sanitation and drinking-water 2010 update;

Further readings / Websites to consult Australian Human Rights Commission: Climate change and human rights; GRID-Arendal (2008): The contribution of climate change to declining water availability; In: UNEP (2008), Vital Water Graphics - An Overview of the State of the World’s Fresh and

Marine Waters. 2nd Edition. UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya. ; Population Reference Bureau (2007): The Impact of Climate Change on Water, Sanitation, and Diarrheal Diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean; The Rights to Water and Sanitation; UK OneWorld: Water and Sanitation Guide; Wateraid UK: Climate change and water resources; r_resources/default.asp Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC): Human rights to water and sanitation; World Water Council (2010): The Right to Water, a human right;

HRC 1 - Impact of Climate Change on the Right to Water and Sanitation  
HRC 1 - Impact of Climate Change on the Right to Water and Sanitation  

The Next Generation, defining the future of global governance The Human Rights Council ----- Background Paper Foreword Content -------------...