Human Rights and Climate Change

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Human Rights and Climate Change is a conceptual and legal framework under which international human rights and their relationship to global warming are studied, analyzed, and addressed. The framework has been employed by governments, United Nations organs, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, human rights and environmental advocates, and academics to guide national and international policy on climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the core international human rights instruments.

Human rights and climate change analysis focuses on the anticipated consequences to humans associated with global environmental phenomena including sea level rise, desertification, temperature increases, extreme weather events, and changes in precipitation, as well as adaptation and mitigation measures taken by governments in response to those phenomena that may involve human rights or related legal protections.


In 2005, Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking relief "from human rights violations resulting from the impacts of global warming and climate change caused by acts and omissions of the United States."[1] The petition was rejected, but the Commission invited and heard testimony on the relationship between human rights and climate change from representatives for the Inuit in 2007.[2]

That same year, the Malé Declaration on the Human Dimension of Global Climate Change "stated explicitly (and for the first time in an international agreement) that 'climate change has clear and immediate implications for the full enjoyment of human rights' and called on the United Nations human rights system to address the issue as a matter of urgency."[3][4]

The following year, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) unanimously adopted Resolution 7/23, recognizing that "climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights," and citing the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[5] The HRC reaffirmed and expanded these statements with resolutions 10/4 of 25 March 2009[6] and 18/22 of 30 September 2011.[7]

In 2009, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released an analytical study identifying specific rights and people groups likely to be adversely affected by climate disruptions.[8] The report drew on the submissions of some 30 nations as well as ten United Nations Agencies and dozens of other organizations.[9] The report identified displaced persons, conflict and security risks as well as impaired rights of indigenous peoples, women, and children as major concerns.[10]

In 2010, the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC reproduced the HRC's language identifying the relationship between human rights and climate change in its report on the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico.[11] The report on the outcome of the Conference emphasized that "Parties should, in all climate change related actions, fully respect human rights."[12]

Rights implicated[edit]

Most international statements on human rights and climate change have emphasized the potential adverse impacts of climate change on the rights to life, health, food, water, housing, development, and self-determination.[13][14] These rights are enumerated in the core conventions of international human rights law, though not all HRC members or UNFCCC parties are signatories of these conventions.

Specific issues[edit]


Research suggests that climate change may create some 50 to 200 million new internally displaced persons and international refugees by the year 2100.[15] Millions of people will be affected by rising sea levels as well. "Mega-deltas" in Asia, Africa, and small islands are at high risk of floods and storms.[16]


International peacebuilding NGO International Alert names 46 countries where climate change effects (including water scarcity, loss of arable land, extreme weather events, shortened growing seasons, and melting glaciers) may interact with economic, social, and political forces to create "a high risk of violent conflict."[17]

Indigenous peoples[edit]

UN Human Rights organs have identified the rights of indigenous peoples as particularly vulnerable to the disruptive effects of climate change.[18][19] Due to climate change, indigenous people have been threatened with their livelihood and cultural idententies across the world North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Approximately 370 million indigenous people are affected.[20]

Child Rights[edit]

Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute identified that children in South Asia may be particularly vulnerable to violations of human rights following climate related disasters. These can include gender-based violence, child labour, family break-ups and barriers to their development and learning. The researchers argue that child rights are rarely prioritised in policies to reduce disaster risk or adapt to climate change and that climate change adaptation policies must tailor interventions to address critical aspects of child rights, particularly child protection and education.[21]


Given that many of the world's poorest citizens depend directly on the environment for all or part of their daily livelihoods, many international development agencies see climate change and development as "inextricably linked."[22][23][24]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights Seeking Relief from Violations Resulting from Global Warming Caused by Acts and Omissions of the United States" (PDF). 7 December 2005. 
  2. ^ Sieg, Richard (2 March 2007). "At International Commission, Inuit Want to See Change in U.S. Policy on Global Warming". Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Limon, Marc (2009). "HUMAN RIGHTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE: CONSTRUCTING A CASE FOR POLITICAL ACTION" (PDF). Harvard Environmental Law Review. 33 (2): 439–476. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Malé Declaration on the Human Dimension of Global Climate Change" (PDF). 14 November 2007. 
  5. ^ HRC (28 March 2008). "UNHRC Resolution 7/23, Human rights and climate change" (PDF). 
  6. ^ HRC (25 March 2009). "UNHRC Resolution 10/4, Human rights and climate change" (PDF). 
  7. ^ HRC (30 September 2011). "A/HRC/RES/18/22 Human rights and climate change". 
  8. ^ OHCHR (15 January 2009). "Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the relationship between climate change and human rights" (PDF) (A/HRC/10/61). 
  9. ^ OHCHR. "OHCHR study on the relationship between climate change and human rights: Submissions and reference documents received". Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  10. ^ See "Report" (PDF). , n.8, at 15-22.
  11. ^ Conference of the Parties (15 March 2011). "FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1, Report of the Conference of the Parties on its sixteenth session, held in Cancun from 29 November to 10 December 2010, Addendum, Part Two: Action taken by the Conference of the Parties at its sixteenth session" (PDF). 
  12. ^ "Id." (PDF). Decision 1/CP.16, The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. 15 March 2011. 
  13. ^ See Malé Declaration, n.4; UNHRC Resolution 18/22, n.7; A/HRC/10/61, n.8; FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1, n.10.
  14. ^ "Human rights, climate change and cross-border displacement". Universal Rights Group. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  15. ^ Docherty, Bonnie; Tyler Giannini (2009). "Confronting a Rising Tide: A Proposal for a Convention on Climage Change Refugees" (PDF). Harvard Environmental Law Review. 33: 349–403. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "Displacement Caused by the Effects of Climate Change: Who Will Be Affected and What Are the Gaps in the Normative Framework for Their Protection? | Brookings Institution". Brookings. 2017-02-16. Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  17. ^ Smith, Dan; Janani Vivekananda (November 2007). "A CLIMATE OF CONFLICT: The links between climate change, peace and war" (PDF). International Alert. 
  18. ^ OHCHR: Climate change and indigenous peoples,
  20. ^ Williams, Jay (2012-05-01). "The impact of climate change on indigenous people – the implications for the cultural, spiritual, economic and legal rights of indigenous people". The International Journal of Human Rights. 16 (4): 648–688. ISSN 1364-2987. doi:10.1080/13642987.2011.632135. 
  21. ^ Katie Harris and Kelly Hawrylyshyn, Climate extremes and child rights in South Asia: a neglected priority,
  22. ^ U.S. Agency for International Development (November 2008). "Integrating Climate Change into Development" (PDF). 
  23. ^ The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; The World Bank (2008). "DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE A Strategic Framework for the World Bank Group" (PDF). 
  24. ^ Khoday, Kishan (7 May 2007). "Climate Change and the Right to Development. Himalayan Glacial Melting and the Future of Development on the Tibetan Plateau" (PDF). Human Development Report Office Occasional Paper. Retrieved 26 April 2012.