Climate change is causing human rights emergencies around the world, the United Nations human rights chief says, specifically highlighting Iraq’s “spiralling damage” from global warming.

Volker Turk pointed to recent examples of the “environmental horror that is our global planetary crisis”, including in Basra, Iraq, where “drought, searing heat, extreme pollution and fast-depleting supplies of freshwater are creating barren landscapes of rubble and dust”.

“This spiralling damage is a human rights emergency for Iraq and many other countries,” Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

“Climate change is pushing millions of people into famine. It is destroying hopes, opportunities, homes and lives. In recent months, urgent warnings have become lethal realities again and again all around the world,” he said.

“We do not need more warnings. The dystopian future is already here. We need urgent action now.”

He spoke after the leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) richest countries at the weekend backed the goal of tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 – but failed to commit to a phase-out of fossil fuels.

The Climate Action Network announced on Monday that millions of climate protesters from around the globe will demand an exit from coal, oil and gas use as soon as possible. The series of demonstrations are to coincide with a key climate summit on September 20 in New York City, hosted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

In view of the record global temperatures this year, Guterres last week called for much more ambition in the fight against climate change to prevent “the worst climate chaos”.

Environmental groups – including Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and Friends of the Earth – are behind the global climate demonstrations expected to start on Friday.

‘Hypocritically developing more fossil fuels’
The 2015 Paris Agreement on fighting climate change aims to cap the rise in temperatures to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. To meet the pledge requires net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

To stay at 1.5C of warming, no new fossil fuel extraction projects should be launched, the International Energy Agency warned years ago. Despite pledges by governments, hydrocarbon production plans continue to be rolled out worldwide.

At last year’s UN COP27 climate summit, more than 80 countries pushed for its final statement to include a call to phase-out fossil fuels.

Yet, countries such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and Norway – among developed nations historically responsible for creating the current climate emergency – “have turned around and hypocritically continued developing more fossil fuels”, said the group Oil Change International.

A march will be held in southern Pakistan’s Sindh province, which was devastated by unprecedented flooding last year.

“We demand a phase-out of fossil fuels now,” said Farooq Tariq from the Kissan Rabita Committee, a collective of farmers in the region.

“The fossil fuel industry and its supporters bear responsibility for the climate crisis and perpetuate a predatory and destructive economic system that harms both people and the planet.”