Climate change can be ‘perfect storm’ for conflicts, warns UN human rights chief

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says communal conflicts caused by climate change can kill hundreds of people on a daily basis. (UNHCHR pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet warned today that if the international community does not work on climate change now, it could become the “perfect storm” for conflicts.

Bachelet, who is on her first visit to Malaysia after being appointed to the post in September last year, said climate change is a huge threat to human rights “and there is a linkage between climate change and conflicts”.

She cited water shortages and scarcity in areas like Africa, which can affect the people’s health.

She said communal conflicts caused by climate change can kill hundreds of people on a daily basis, adding that desperation can drive the society to fighting each other, internal displacements, and migration to other countries.

“If we don’t work on the 2030 Agenda (for Sustainable Development) to leave no one behind, it will drive people to become extremists and look for other ways to solve their problems,” she said at a press conference here today.

The 2030 Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, which seeks to strengthen universal peace by leaving no one behind, including minorities.

Bachelet said the international community needs to have a strong commitment to tackle climate change, rather than just making “speeches with beautiful words”.

She also agreed that the UN could be better when it comes to preventing conflicts, in response to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent criticism against the world body for allowing superpowers to “rule the world” and in solving conflicts.

At the 74th UN General Assembly in New York last month, Mahathir took the UN to task for failing in its endeavours to prevent wars and allowing rich countries to do as they please with their veto power while the less powerful countries are struggling.

“We believe a system of human rights can provide a lot of early warning signs, which if paid attention to by authorities in countries, may be able to prevent conflict and bloodshed,” Bachelet said.

She said UNHCHR is working with organisations that can analyse situations and identify elements that serve as early warning signs. It also has special rapporteurs who gather reports for these matters.

“Of course, it’s not only about UN. We also need the international community and governments to support all possibilities to prevent conflict from happening, because these issues are linked with geopolitical and economic interests of their countries,” she said.