Human Rights


The Importance of a Human-Rights Perspective

The CJP is calling for a human rights approach to climate change. We are also calling for the development of a right to a safe climate: one that recognises the inter-connectedness of such a right with other rights and the importance of inter-generational equity to the essence of such a right.

Climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to human rights across the globe. The world’s poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. There is a growing momentum around enforcing legal responsibilities and obligations to prevent and minimise the impacts of climate change upon human lives and human rights.

While there is no recognition of a right to a safe climate at international law there has been some recognition of a right to an adequate environment. For example Article 1 of the Aarhus Convention states:

“In order to contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being, each Party shall guarantee the rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.”

A number of existing human rights rely on a safe climate for their complete realisation. These include many civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. For example rights to life, health, adequate standard of living, property, self-determination and just and favourable conditions of work all may rely on conditions of a safe climate.

Human rights are too often equated with “moral” questions and a common theme of government bureaucrats in consultations with non-government organisations has been the urging of NGOs to frame climate policy in economic not moral concerns.

Nevertheless it is our view that a human rights framework is essential for understanding the urgency of acting on climate change and is necessary to communicate fully the impact climate change will have on people in Australia and around the world.

In response to climate change, human rights requires a triple task to be performed by governments, namely to:

  1. avoid harmful emissions nationally in order to respect the right to live in freedom from human-induced climate perturbations;
  2. protect human rights against third-party emissions of countries or corporations through international cooperation; and
  3. fulfil human rights obligations by upgrading people’s capability to cope with climate change through adaptation measures, such as dam building, resettlement, or land redistribution.

Key Cases

Gbemre v Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria

In this case an individual and community in the Niger Delta filed a case in the Federal High Court of Nigeria against Shell and other major oil companies to stop gas flaring. Gas flaring in Nigeria has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined, as well as poisoning local communities. The court held that the gas flaring was a gross violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights to life and dignity. This is the first time that a Nigerian court has applied the rights to life and dignity in an environmental case.

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

The Arctic Inuit filed a petition arguing that the impacts of climate change in the Arctic infringe upon the environmental, subsistence, and other human rights of Inuit. The Inuit sought a ruling from the Commission that the US must adopt mandatory limits on greenhouse gases and “…help the Inuit adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change.” The Inuit relied on the breach of the following rights set out in the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man: the right to life (Art. 1), the right to residence and movement (Art. VIII), the right to inviolability of the home (Art. IX), the right to preservation of health and to well-being (Art. XI), the rights to benefits of culture (Art. XIII) and the right to work and to fair remuneration (Art. XIV). The Commission technically dismissed the Petition in December 2006. A hearing was however held in March 2007. No hearing report appears to have been published.