Housing Rights amid Climate Change
In response to a call from the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, HIC-HLRN submitted inputs to inform the Rapporteur’s report to the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, in collaboration with HIC members in Spain (Observatori DESC) and India (Sathi All for Partnerships India).
In the submission, HIC-HLRN highlighted the cases of HIC Members in India and Spain. India is experiencing migration and population shrinkage due to droughts and increasing temperatures, directly affecting crops, in communities in Jharkhand. In Spain, homes have been lost due to sea-level rise (homes on the waterfront or in flood zones), and one million residents living in areas at risk of flooding. Heat and cold waves accompanied by a high number of tropical nights, together with the ravages of widespread energy poverty in Spain create inadequate housing conditions, leading to deaths from heat, and from winter cold. Poor insulation also leads to an increase in the consumption of electricity and gas, with the expense that this entails, which often leads to energy poverty. Spain has also experienced an increase in storms, causing leaks in homes, losses and damage due to wind, rain and hail, as well as the heat-island effect (in cities).
HIC-HRLN elaborated on the different ways that the climate crisis affects the right to adequate housing differently in urban and rural areas. Effects differ mostly in the degree to which urban settings involve (1) greater density of consequences (numbers and values at stake) and (2) victims/affected people generally having more resettlement and livelihood options in urban areas.
Also, relief agencies and civil defense services operate either less, or with less rapidity in rural and remote areas. This remains a factor in the availability of both remedies for those affected and information (numbers and other details) about the victims/affected persons and the consequences they endure, including their whereabouts and conditions (e.g., adequacy of housing and costs incurred) in their eventual displacement.
Moreover, rural areas tend to have less public money dedicated to climate change adaptation (such as climate shelters), and less is invested in all types of services. Public transportation in rural areas is underfunded and functions poorly. The discourse of territorial balance and less travel in private vehicles to mitigate climate change is contrasted with the reality of centralization of public services in large cities, neglecting small towns and rural areas, which have their population needing to travel to go to the doctor or access other basic services.
The particular impacts on refugees and IDPs are also cited as a critical issue, particularly the question of how to ensure their right to voluntarily return. Important factors to consider are the availability of resources and capacities of domestic or international public agencies and nongovernmental service providers. Governance and political will are key, including nondiscrimination in that context. Human needs and, hence, (accessory) human rights to public participation, information and administrative justice, etc. come into high relief in cases of their denial.
Conversely, the impacts of housing on climate change are also necessary to consider. Urbanization has a causal effect on the greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) and temperature change in the long run, and carbon-dioxide emission in the short run. Cities use a large proportion of the world`s energy supply and are responsible for around 70% of global energy-related GGE, which trap heat and result in the warming of Earth.
The joint submission also highlighted several efforts from the MENA region in support of a just transition to a rights-compliant, climate-resilient and carbon-neutral housing for all, without discrimination. Egypt has cited efforts to improve energy efficiency and reducing emissions from lead foundries, recycling straw from the rice harvest, reducing effects of, and relocating popular settlements away from polluting industries.
Jordan’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) under the Paris Agreement commits to “requiring the implementation of green building codesby setting clear standards for construction, materials and land based on best practices; and requiring all new buildings in the public sector to comply with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] criteria.
In Lebanon, the National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Action (NEEREA) is a national platform launched on 25 November 2010, based on the Circular 236 of the Central Bank of Lebanon, which, in collaboration with the European Union, lists the terms and conditions to obtain subsidized green loans. Saudi Arabia expresses an interest in improving public–private partnerships with an aim to ensure integration toward a sustainable environment and a green economy. The emirate of Abu Dhabi introduced Estidama, a sustainable building framework in 2010, including the Pearl Rating System for the design, construction and operation of buildings, dwellings and communities, whereby all new buildings are required to obtain at least a one-pearl rating out of five, and all government buildings and dwellings must obtain a minimum of a two-pearl rating.
The impacts of climate on the right to adequate housing is currently a central issue in HIC. In November 2021, HIC held the event Climate Justice as a Habitat-related Human Right: Takeaways from CoP26 for advancing people’s led climate actionwith the goal of discussing the outcomes of the Glasgow climate negotiations in the frame of climate justice and human rights, while highlighting some of the key pathways for building climate justice from a territorial perspective, anchored on human rights related to habitat. The event gathered a diverse group of speakers, in order to engage both with the discussions that were held during CoP26 (2021) and the numerous voices and approaches from the climate justice movement.
Photo: Informal settlements are often the most vulnerable to damage and destruction due to climate change. Source: OHCHR.