Climate change is our crisis too! Persons with disabilities demand COP26 break the exclusion cycle

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The failure to include persons with disabilities in the world’s efforts to combat the climate crisis has dramatic consequences. Due to inaccessible disaster preparedness plans, systemic discrimination, and widespread poverty, people with disabilities are left behind in relief and response efforts. It continues to be vital that States and other actors design and implement disability-inclusive policies that enhance and protect, rather than undermine, the human rights of persons with disabilities.

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“We need to show the world how persons with disabilities pay the highest price for climate-irresponsible policies,” said Gerard Quinn, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“As persons with disabilities, we are 15 per cent of the population living on this planet. But looking at climate action decisions, you hardly find our rights and needs being considered,” said Vladimir Cuk, Executive Director of the International Disability Alliance (IDA). “When disasters such as floods, cyclones, or heat waves happen, persons with disabilities are often left out of assistance plans. We see climate mitigation plans being adopted without considering the consequences for persons with disabilities. This all means that to climate decision-makers, we do not exist.”

COP26 is going to be different in many ways for many groups, including for the more than one billion persons with disabilities worldwide. IDA represents more than 1,100 organizations of persons with disabilities and has obtained observance status to officially participate at COP26 in Glasgow next week. IDA is also in the process of creating the Disability and Climate Action Caucus to unify voices of persons with disabilities in the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The failure to include persons with disabilities in the world’s efforts to combat the climate crisis has dramatic consequences. Due to inaccessible disaster preparedness plans, systemic discrimination, and widespread poverty, people with disabilities are left behind in relief and response efforts. The impact of climate change – from rapid onset disasters such as typhoons and wildfires, to more gradual changes such as droughts, temperature increases, and sea level rise – have disproportionate effects on the lives, well-being, and livelihoods of persons with disabilities all over the world.

One recent example is the report published by Human Rights Watch documents the higher risk of heat-related illness and death to persons with disabilities and older people in British Colombia, Canada. This report clearly shows how the lack of a disability-inclusive approach when designing adaptation policies and plans leads to the exclusion of persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities may also be adversely affected by responses to climate change. Policies to reduce carbon emissions, such as carbon pricing schemes or bans of carbon intensive products, are often designed without considering the rights, perspectives, and requirements of the disability community, and do not address the differential costs and burdens that these changes may impose on individuals with disabilities.

These types of ableist climate mitigation policies create barriers for persons with disabilities and reinforce social inequities. For example, increasing the price of gas to encourage more frequent use of public transportation would be discriminatory against persons with disabilities if the public transportation is not accessible to them.

Like all residents of this planet, persons with disabilities have a responsibility to play an active role in combating the climate crisis. But they face many challenges to fulfill this responsibility. Information on the climate crisis and ways to address it are not often provided in accessible formats such as sign language for deaf persons, or plain language for those with intellectual disabilities. Recycling processes are often inaccessible for many groups including blind persons.

As the world moves forward with measures to combat climate change, it is vital that States and other actors design and implement disability-inclusive policies that enhance and protect, rather than undermine, the human rights of persons with disabilities.

“Documenting the impact of climate change on persons with disabilities is one of my priorities,” said Gerard Quinn, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. “We need to show the world how persons with disabilities pay the highest price for climate-irresponsible policies. Furthermore, persons with disabilities typically have little opportunity to influence these policies. This needs to be changed immediately. This is even more important to the future as we try to build more resilient and inclusive communities. No climate action would be considered legitimate and efficient without meaningful participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.”

The International Disability Alliance
The International Disability Alliance (IDA), established in 1999, is a network of eight global and six regional organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs). IDA members, and their members, represent over 1,100 OPDs from across 182 countries and the estimated one billion persons with disabilities worldwide. The 14 members of IDA are: the African Disability Forum (ADF); the ASEAN Disability Forum (AsDF); the Arab Organization of Persons with Disabilities (AOPD); Down Syndrome International (DSI); the European Disability Forum (EDF); Inclusion International (II); the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (IFHOH); the International Federation of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IFSBH); the Latin American Network of Non-Governmental Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and their Families (RIADIS); the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF); the World Blind Union (WBU); the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD); the World Federation of the Deafblind (WFDB); and the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP).

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Elham Youssefian
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