Climate Justice Programme

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Climate Change Threatens Human Rights Everywhere

The Importance of Human Rights

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:

  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.