The Climate Justice Programme 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.
An Advisory Opinion is needed from the International Court of Justice concerning the human rights obligations of states to protect present and future generations from climate change. We are calling upon states to support a resolution to request such an Advisory Opinion.
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.
The preamble of the Paris Agreement references human rights. The text represents the first such recognition of human rights within a multilateral environmental agreement.
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.”
In 2017 an Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognised that the right to a healthy environment is an autonomous right. Further, the court found that if the right was breached states could be held responsible, whether the damage occurred within that states boundaries or outside the state's boundaries.
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 around the world.
In response to climate change, human rights requires a triple task to be performed by governments, namely to:
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