Tackling the devastating effects of extreme weather changes and disasters on communities in vulnerable situations across the world will be a top priority, the new UN expert on human rights and climate change told the Human Rights Council.

“The huge human cost of the climate crisis is being ignored. We hear of disaster relief, but the long-term costs are not being addressed. We must provide lasting support for people impacted by climate change,” said Ian Fry, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

In his report to the Council, the Special Rapporteur outlined a six-point plan to address the human rights aspects of the problem.

Communities in vulnerable situations, including indigenous peoples, peasants, migrants, children, women, persons with disabilities and people living in small island developing States and least developed countries, are disproportionately at risk from adverse impacts of climate change, the UN expert said.

He also highlighted the many non-economic losses stemming from climate change and its consequences.

“For instance, in countries where I have worked and visited in the Pacific for the last 20 years, people are witnessing the graves of their loved ones being washed out into the sea,” the expert said.

Fry noted that the key element of his plan would be to investigate the plight of people displaced by the impacts of climate change. The expert said that of 59.1 million people internally displaced in 2021 across the world, most were displaced by climate-related disasters. He noted that the number was far higher than displacement due to armed conflict.

“We are faced with an intolerable tide of people moving from their homes due to the impacts of climate change,” the expert said.

Fry expressed particular concern about people displaced across international borders due to climate change. “There is no legal definition for these so-called climate change refugees, and they are not defined as refugees under the UN Refugee Convention. As a result, these people may fall through the cracks when it comes to protection,” he warned.

As the UN’s first Special Rapporteur on climate change and its impact on human rights, Fry said these were only two issues he was investigating.

“Much more needs to be done.”

Ian Fry is the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council at its 49th session in March 2022 and starts his mandate on 01 May 2022.

Fry is an international environmental law and policy expert. His focus has primarily focussed on mitigation policies and loss and damage associated the Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol and related instruments. He worked for the Tuvalu government for over 21 years and was appointed as their Ambassador for Climate Change and Environment 2015-2019.