Disabled people are less able to migrate and are more exposed to natural disasters and other adverse impacts.
Disability rights activists are making their voices heard at the COP27 UN climate conference, currently underway in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Last year, climate activists who focus on disability gained official status as a caucus recognized by the UN Secretariat, a major victory and the culmination of years of efforts to be officially included in the proceedings.
As a result, someone from the caucus will be able to address the closing plenary this year to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in the context of the climate crisis. Activists also have an official space to gather.
Higher temperatures and heatwaves affect people with physical disabilities and underlying illnesses such as diabetes, cardiorespiratory and psychological diseases. Some medications, for instance, interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Loss and damage
The issue of international compensation for harm caused by climate change, known in UN jargon as “loss and damage,” is high on the agenda for disability rights activists, who have been pushing for their voices to be included in negotiations on this subject.
Negotiators from developing countries have been calling for an international mechanism to address loss and damage at COP27, as they ask developed nations – which have built their wealth on unrestrained CO2 emissions – to help shoulder the financial costs that falls heavily on the shoulders of poor nations.
Rights activists say negotiators and policymakers have been overlooking how climate change impacts further exacerbate the challenges people with disabilities already face.
Jason Boberg, a member of the disability caucus at the UN, as well as the founder of the disability climate action network SustainedAbility, says figuring out where loss and damage finance will come from and how to secure some of it for disabled people living in disaster-prone areas is “front of mind” for members of the disability caucus.
Research conducted by Human Rights Watch between March 2021 and October 2022 suggests that natural disasters or extreme weather events leave people with disabilities at higher risk of death, as well as physical and mental health impacts.
A research paper published earlier this year by McGill University and the International Disability Alliance found that few countries around the world account for the needs of people with disabilities in their climate adaptation plans. None mentioned disabled people in their programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Boberg said one of the next goals will be formal elevation of the new caucus to the level of a “constituency” within COP – an umbrella organisation or coalition.
He also said it is important for people with disabilities to be included in the UN's Action for Climate Empowerment short-term action plan, which will be hashed out in the coming days.
More than one billion people in the world live with a disability, according to the World Health Organization.