US Climate and Health Alliance

COP21 SERIES Reshaping the landscape: The geography of human rights, climate change, and disasters


When leaders gather in Paris to discuss serious measures to address climate change this December, they will be surrounded by a city and region that, in recent decades, has spent its summers grappling with deadly heat. The ongoing effects of these annual climatic threats may not be visible from the Paris-Le Bourget site in December, but they are still very much in evidence for those most affected by any natural hazard—those living with fewer resources, sparse networks of support, and greater inequality.It is no accident that evidence of climate threats is not visible from the conference center. Just as violations of human rights are woven into the city’s geography, so too are vulnerabilities to disaster, including those associated with climate change. In cities around the world, the effects of climate change and related disasters are disproportionately felt by already disadvantaged populations. For example, pre-Katrina, New Orleans was characterized by residential racial segregation (much of which could be mapped by elevation) and an accompanying disparity in access to resources and networks of support. The inequality of this landscape contributed to violations of the right to health such as access to basic medical care and exposure to toxic environmental conditions. When Katrina struck, the waters that flowed through toxic soils became hazardous for those attempting to swim through them, while those facing financial barriers to medical care were unable to treat ongoing health complications arising from poor housing and displacement. The geographically embedded violations of health rights were not merely the background against which the hurricane played out; they were an active contributor to the impacts that resulted.

Resource Type
Blog Post
Health and Human Rights Journal
Resource URL
October 20, 2015
Organization Type
Health and Human Impact
Climate and Environmental Impact
Advocacy Climate and environmental justice/health equity Social determinants of health Vulnerable populations

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