Urgent action must be taken to stop disabled people’s rights from being “systematically neglected” in the battle against climate change, international delegates at the COP26 conference in Glasgow have been told.
Three disabled speakers repeated the message that disabled people and their organisations must be at the heart of policy discussions around climate change.
The event on disability-inclusive climate action was also warned of the disproportionate impact that climate change was having on disabled people around the world.
The event was organised by Canada’s McGill University, Inclusion Scotland, League of Women Voters, International Disability Alliance and Human Rights Watch.
Susie Fitton, policy manager for Inclusion Scotland, told the meeting: “Our human rights as disabled people, our requirements for daily living, and our perspectives on climate action have to date been systematically neglected in international, national and local responses to a changing climate.
“This urgently needs to change, and we hope that this event will be a form of catalyst for that change.”
She said the report highlighted two key issues, “that disabled people in Scotland stand to be harder hit by climate impact but are often excluded or disadvantaged by actions to address climate change”.
Fitton (pictured) said disabled people around the world were being “hardest hit” by “extreme weather, bigger wild fires, longer droughts and more intense storms and floods”.
She said this can be “catastrophic” for some disabled people who are “less likely to be evacuated safely, more prone to health risks, and less likely to have insurance that protects their assets and homes”.
And she said this was not just an issue for disabled people in the global south.
She said: “We saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in America that community evacuation warnings, shelters and emergency transport were not accessible to disabled people, and as a result significant numbers drowned in their own homes or in nursing homes.”
And she said this “sense of environmental vulnerability is growing closer to home for disabled people in Scotland”, where 280,000 properties were vulnerable to rising sea and river levels, while the ground floor and level access properties required by many disabled people were “particularly vulnerable to flooding”.
Despite this, she said, disability issues receive little attention from policy-makers on climate issues in Scotland.
And efforts to reduce emissions, such as active travel schemes that emphasise walking and cycling, “all have the potential to actively discriminate against disabled people”, including those who rely on cars and cannot afford new electric vehicles.
She showed delegates a photograph of an older, disabled woman being forced to cross a cycle lane to board a bus, because of a “spaces for people” scheme in Edinburgh.
Fitton suggested that disabled people had faced discrimination because of acts of “eco-ableism in the environmental movement”, including a failure to recognise that “many of the changes to habits and lifestyle that could help minimise climate change… are very difficult or even impossible for some disabled people to do”.
And she called on the UK to use COP26 as a platform to encourage other governments to “view disabled people as key stakeholders” in the development of climate change policy, while she said the Scottish government also needed to involve disabled people and their organisations in climate change policy-making.
She added: “There can be no climate justice in Scotland without the active involvement of disabled people.”
He said: “We are here to learn from others, we are here to share the experience that many of you have, but we know what is good for us, we know what we need, we know what and how we should be included in the discussion around climate change.
“People with disabilities are dying out there as a result of the impact and effect of climate change.
“There is no time to keep waiting or to lose if we want to stop persons with disabilities from dying in the different disasters.”
He called for disabled people to be closely involved in climate change policy-making, and not only to be restricted to meetings with government departments of social affairs and health, education and employment, but also with ministries connected with climate change issues in departments covering justice, transport and development issues.
Pratima Gurung, from Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, said in a pre-recorded video that it was time “to negotiate, to network” for inclusion in climate action, which meant disabled people and indigenous disabled people needed to be “clearly mentioned” and included in documents, policies and UN structures.
She said: “We need to be at the centre as we are in the front line from the vulnerability aspects, and our voices need to be heard.”
She said that “global commitments” must reach those on the ground by ensuring change for “the most vulnerable people like us” and “ensuring that no-one is left behind”.
She said: “This is what inclusion means for us.
“I know that this is not a very easy task, but if we do not realise it, it will harm every one of us in many forms, so it is time for us to put the custodian of this nature – indigenous people, indigenous people with disabilities – and people with disabilities into the centre by protecting all of us.”
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