Post #5 – The effects of climate change on human rights and moving past eurocentrism


Havana’s storm-battered Malecon. Further residential
development is banned. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Today’s post will elaborate on some points touched on regarding climate change and human rights in my previous posts, and specifically how these topics affect Cuba and what Cuba is doing about the issues in those areas.  First, I would like to discuss more about how climate change and human rights are connected.  Then, I will go into Cuba’s climate change issues, human rights issues affected by them, and how Cuba is going about fixing them.  Lastly, I will discuss a reading by Farish Noor and his views on going beyond eurocentrism.

Climate, in general, is the “usual weather of a place”.  Climate change generally refers to global warming due to the rise of greenhouse gases, causing global temperature increases that melt snow and ice, and which could potentially bring freshwater shortages, desertification, reduced biodiversity, and increase the amount and intensity of weather events – in turn causing more floods, droughts, storms, and heat waves, and rising sea levels, to name a couple of issues.  Human rights are considered the basic rights of human beings, “regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language, or other status”, including rights to life, liberty, freedom of expression, food, a place to work, education, and participation in a culture.


Poor governance and a series of disasters have left
6.7 million people in Haiti classed as ‘food insecure’
(Pic: UN Photos)

Climate change and human rights don’t immediately seem connected, but once you realize what the effects of climate change are, it is fairly easy to see why they are very much intertwined.  A lot of it comes down to being a moral issue.  Climate change’s effects on our planet will affect Arctic and small island states in the worst way first, and they are often very poor and the smallest contributors to climate change.  Many of these states may disappear in the near future, which for the people of that place is definitely a human rights issue – not working to stop or diminish the predicted consequences of climate change is essentially letting climate change take away their basic human rights, and they are at the mercy of the large, wealthy countries who are causing the majority of the climate change we are seeing.  The sea levels rising will take away their land, forcing them to be displaced, but with no place to go without help from elsewhere.  There are more and more dangerous weather systems hitting them, damaging and flooding their homes and food sources, leaving them homeless and starving – as we have just seen Haiti go through with hurricane Matthew.



Key findings in the UN report Climate Change and Human Rights which was released on Human Rights Day, just before the Paris climate meeting in 2015 state just how dire the climate change situation is and how it will affect universal human rights:

  • The impacts of climate change on freshwater resources, ecosystems, and human settlements are already undermining access to clean water, food, shelter, and other basic human needs; interfering with livelihoods; and displacing people from their homes. Even if we remain within the international goal of 2° C of global warming, these impacts will expand dramatically in the coming decades.
  • These impacts constitute a serious interference with the exercise of fundamental human rights, such as the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and an adequate standard of living.
  • Mitigation, adaptation, and geoengineering measures can also adversely affect the exercise of human rights. For example, there are documented instances of hydroelectric and biofuel projects that have resulted in human rights violations. There is also a high risk of human rights violations resulting from the implementation of resettlement programs for those who are displaced or at risk of displacement due to climate change, and a corresponding need to ensure that such programs are undertaken with adequate input and consent from those who are relocated.

Climate change poses a great threat to both the people and their human rights to land, food, shelter, and potable water, by reducing biodiversity due to weather pattern changes, causing water scarcity due to drought, declining quality of life, and storms, winds and water changing the landscape – causing huge social consequences.  Important in Cuba’s case specifically are “soil conditions, food availability, disease burden, ecological changes, extreme weather events, water quality and rising sea levels, all in conjunction with a range of social, cultural, economic and demographic conditions.” While Cuba is known for its many human rights issues, which I have discussed previously in prior posts, I will focus only on a couple of the human rights issues caused by climate change directly in this post.

Of the 80 coastal settlements in Cuba, 15 will disappear by 2050 it is predicted, due to sea levels rising and covering 2.32 percent of the territory, according to the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.  It is going to be very hard for Cuba to implement the changes needed to mitigate this kind of change, seeing as Cuba is only recently emerging from an economic crisis that lasted over two decades.   While Cuba has one of the best disaster response programs in the region, they also work with programs like to help deal with disasters themselves, disaster prevention and disaster education.  President Raul Castro’s government began a strategic program of economic and social reforms in 2008, which also addressed environmental issues.  Cuba has begun prioritizing the use of renewable energy sources, and are trying to make 10% of energy in Cuba be derived from sun, wind and water sources (as opposed to fossil fuels) by 2030.  They are also creating environmental research and management projects to study risk assessment and vulnerability in coastal zones, finding ways to adapt.  Cuban farmers are also trying to plant drought-resistant and storm-resistant crops and dig ponds to keep water and food supplies up in a destructive climate.  More will need to be done and is hopefully in the works for Cuba.  Despite as I had previously mentioned in my last post how Cuba is one of the least currently affected by climate change due to their situation, they will not be able to hide from its effects forever.  There is still a long road ahead for Cuba in the battle against climate change, and in turn human rights being violated, and they can’t do it alone.

Now, I will be switching over to a different, but somewhat related topic.  In the context of human rights, often the word ethnocentrism comes up.  In Farish A. Noor’s piece Beyond Eurocentrism:  The Need for a Multicultural Understanding of Human Rights in Martha Meijer’s book Dealing with Human Rights, he discusses how the Western world being prevalent in politics, economics and even pop culture around the world does not necessarily mean “American values are indeed global ones and truly universal.”  The misconception that this is true, he argues, is ethnocentrism, or in this case, eurocentrism. He defines ethnocentrism as the “tendency of individuals and cultures to view themselves as well as the environment around them from the perspective of their own culture, values and belief” and it “also entails a favorable evaluation of one’s own culture while perceiving any differences from this norm as inferior.”  Eurocentrism is what he calls the “emerging perception within the European cultural, historical experience of European identity as good and all other forms which the West views and judges the rest of the world by its own standards”.  He believes we need to be able to understand from the point of views of all of the different cultures what they believe are fundamental human rights and what violates theirs before we can create a truly universal human rights definition.  When he talks about “going beyond eurocentrism” in his piece, I believe he means looking at the world through a view that isn’t just your own culture as the norm (in this case European).  We need to stop holding other cultures, that may be – and most likely are – very different from ours, to our standards.  Being able to understand why people feel the way they do and how they view themselves is a first step to being able to work together and maybe one day come together to work toward a real universal human rights system.


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