Human rights mechanisms addressing climate change


The human rights mechanisms such as the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, the human rights treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review are increasingly addressing the human rights impacts of climate change.

The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties. The treaty bodies have addressed climate change and human rights in a number of statements, decisions, concluding observations, General Comments and General Recommendations. This body of work provides guidelines for the interpretation and application of State party obligations deriving from the respective Covenants and Conventions in relation to climate action and constitutes part of the evolving international human rights law framework that is increasingly addressing climate change. Below are some illustrative examples:

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 United Nations Member States. The UPR is increasingly addressing the links between climate change and human rights. Between 2008 and 2018, States made 114 recommendations explicitly addressing climate change. A larger number of recommendations were made on matters related to climate change, such as disaster risks reductions and displacement. Nauru, Kiribati, the United States of America, Samoa and Tuvalu received the largest number of climate change-related recommendations during the first and second UPR cycles. The Maldives, the Philippines, Haiti, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh were the States that made most climate-related recommendations during these two cycles.

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council undertake country visits; act on individual cases and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States and others in which they bring alleged violations or abuses to their attention; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contribute to the development of international human rights standards, engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation. Since 2008, the Special Procedures mechanisms have been actively involved in addressing the human rights impacts of climate change including in the following reports and statements:

Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises:

  • Gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2019)

Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights:

  • Preliminary findings and observations on visit to Tuvalu (2019)
  • The importance of public spaces for the exercise of cultural Rights (2019)
  • Cultural rights: tenth anniversary report (2018)

Special Rapporteur on the right to development:

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development (2019)
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development (2019)
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development: South-South cooperation and the right to development (2018)

Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities:

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (disability-inclusive policies) (2016)

Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment:

  • Safe climate (2019)
  • Clean air and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment (2019)
  • Good practices on the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (2019)
  • Global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (2018)
  • Framework principles on human rights and the environment (2018)
  • Children's rights and the environment (2018)
  • Biodiversity (2017)
  • Climate change (2016)
  • Implementation report (2016)
  • Good practices report (2015)
  • Mapping report (2014)
  • Preliminary report (2013)

Special Rapporteur on the right to food:

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to the United General Assembly on the Sustainable Development Goals (2019)
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to the Human Rights Council on Fishery Workers (2019)
  • Report to the Human Rights Council: Right to food in the context of natural disasters (2018)
  • Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2017)
  • Report to the General Assembly: Right to food and nutrition (2016)
  • Report to the Human Rights Council: Integrating a gender perspective in the right to food (2016)
  • Impact of climate change on the right to food (2015)
  • Agroecology and the right to food (2010)

Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights:

  • Report to the General Assembly (2016)

Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association:

  • The interlinkages between closing civil society space, poverty, national policy and the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (2019)
  • The linkages between the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2018)

Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health:

  • A human rights-based approach to health workforce education (2019)
  • Report of the SR on the right to health and Agenda 2030 (2016)

Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context:

  • The right to housing for indigenous peoples (2019)
  • Climate change/the right to adequate housing (2009)

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders:

  • Environmental human rights defenders (2016)

Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples:

  • Attacks and criminalisation of indigenous human rights defenders. Availability of prevention and protection measures (2018)
  • An introductory comment on the issue of indigenous peoples and self-governance (2018)
  • Impacts of climate change and climate finance on indigenous peoples' rights (2017)

Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons:

  • Outcomes and commitments on internal displacement of the World Humanitarian Summit (2016)
  • Human rights of internally displaced persons in the context of the Post-2015 development agenda (2015)
  • A more systematized and equitable response to internally displaced persons outside camps (2012)
  • Mission to the Maldives (2011)
  • Climate change and internal displacement (2011)

Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order:

  • Report of the Independent Expert on the human rights impact of IMF policies and practice (2017)

Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity:

  • Report to the Human Rights Council (2018)
  • Report to the General Assembly (2016)
  • Report to the General Assembly (2015)
  • Report to the General Assembly (2014)

Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants:

  • Thematic Report to the General Assembly on Developing the Global Compact on Migration (2016)
  • Climate change and migration (2012)

Special Rapporteur on minority issues:

  • Minorities in situations of humanitarian crises (2016)

Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons:

  • Human rights of older persons in emergency situations (2019)

Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights:

  • Climate change and poverty (2019)
  • Importance of social protection measures in achieving Millennium Development Goals (2010)

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences:

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences – focus on child slavery (2019)
  • Thematic report on current and emerging forms of slavery (2019)

Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia:

  • Situation of human rights in Somalia (2019)

Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation:

  • Forcibly displaced persons (2018)
  • Service  regulation (2017)
  • Climate Change and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: Position paper (2010)

Joint reports:

Joint statements:

A comprehensive overview of references to climate change made by special procedures, treaty bodies (including concluding observations) and the UPR (including the recommendations in the reports from the working groups) can be found by searching the Universal Human Rights Index.