In recent years, there has been increasing discussion by both academics and policymakers of the nexus between human rights and climate change. This included the previous passage of three resolutions by the UN’s Human Right Council. This past week, the Council passed its fourth resolution on the topic, likely seeking to send a signal to the Parties to the UNFCCC in advance of the COP21 meeting in Paris. The resolution comes in the immediate wake of a call last month by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (a collaborative forum of climate-vulnerable States) for the Parties to the UNFCCC to agree to aggressive reductions in emissions at Paris to help ensure protection of critical human rights threatened by climatic impacts.
The latest Human Rights Council resolution, which was championed by the Philippines and Bangladesh, and co-sponsored by more than 100 countries, includes the following provisions:
- It emphasizes, as had the Parties to the UNFCCC at their 16th Meeting of the Parties, that States should respect human rights “in all climate-related actions,” which would presumably include response measures, including mitigation and adaptation initiatives, as well as climate geoengineering;
- It reaffirms the link between climate change (including both sudden-onset natural disasters and slow-onset events) and the threat to the enjoyment of an array of human rights, including the right to life, food, water and development;
- It calls for a panel discussion as part of its work program for its 31st Session “on the adverse impact of climate change on States’ efforts to progressively realize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and related policies, lessons learned and good practices.”
- The Resolution all calls for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a study on the nexus of climate change impacts and human to inform the panel discussion. The OHCHR was also encouraged to consult with and solicit the view of States, pertinent international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the IPCC, the UNFCCC, the World Health Organization, and other stakeholders.
Among the class discussion questions that this resolution could generate include the following:
- Do you believe that there is any value in subjecting climate change to a human rights lens given the fact that human rights are regularly flouted in many contexts?
- Given the fact that the human rights violations associated with climate change in the world’s most vulnerable States will be the consequence of emissions by other countries is there a role for human rights given the anathema of many States to apply human rights provisions extraterritorially?
- What might be some of the practical problems of applying a human-rights based approach in terms of legal issues e.g. causality, joint-responsibility, etc.