Integrating human rights at the UNFCCC

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Council (HRC) work to highlight the links between climate change and human rights and call for a rights-based approach to guide global climate change policies and action. The HRC stresses the importance of addressing human rights in the context of discussions related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The first direct reference to human rights in the context of the UNFCCC was made when decision 1/CP.16 (2010) referred to HRC resolution 10/4, which recognizes the adverse effects of climate change on the effective enjoyment of human rights and calls upon States to ensure respect for human rights in their climate actions. The Preamble to the Paris Agreement to the UNFCCC (1/CP.21) expands upon this language calling on States, when taking action to address climate change, to "respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights".

The following are actions and resources related to OHCHR's efforts to integrate human rights in climate change mitigation and adaptation, particularly with regard to the UNFCCC.

Integrating human rights in the implementation of the Paris Agreement

OHCHR advocated for the integration of human rights in the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement. OHCHR's submission to the 46th meeting of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies in 2017 outlined key priorities in this regard. The briefing note prepared by the Human Rights and Climate Change Working Group provides a useful analysis of key priorities and entry points for human rights in the implementation guidelines.

During SB 48 and COP24 in 2018, OHCHR worked actively with members of the Human Rights and Climate Change Working Group, the COP23 Presidency, and other Member States, including the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action, to promote integration of human rights in the guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement.

OHCHR also participated in the Durban Forum on Capacity-Building, the Paris Committee on Capacity-Building, the Talanoa Dialogue, the Action for Climate Empowerment Workshop, the Gender Workshop, the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Workshop and a number of multilateral and bilateral conversations about human rights and climate change. The guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement adopted at COP24 offer entry points for OHCHR's continuing engagement in matters such as the global stock-take and the drafting of nationally determined contributions and adaptation communications.

The continuing negotiations of guidelines for Article 6 offer an opportunity to integrate human rights protections such as stakeholder consultations, environmental and social safeguards, and an independent redress mechanism in cooperative actions facilitated by mechanisms created by Article 6. The Gender Action Plan, the Facilitative Working Group of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples' Platform and the Action for Climate Empowerment Agenda create additional spaces for stakeholder participation at the UNFCCC, which OHCHR supports. OHCHR will continue its work to ensure a rights-based approach to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, including through engagement with the Conferences of the Parties to the UNFCCC (past examples are outlined below).

Advocating a rights-based approach to climate change at the COP

The HRC has highlighted the importance of addressing human rights in the context of ongoing discussions related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. OHCHR has repeatedly made the results of HRC debates, studies and activities available to the sessions of the Conference of the Parties (COP).

COP25 (Madrid, December 2019)

OHCHR organized, participated in and spoke at events; liaised with constituency groups including gender, business, youth, indigenous peoples and local communities, research, farmers and trade unions; participated in consultations and supported rights-based approaches to climate action. The High Commissioner issued a letter to Permanent Missions in New York and Geneva on priorities for human rights-based climate action, including the renewal and revision of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), developing the rules for implementation of article 6 of the Paris Agreement and addressing loss and damage.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights participated at COP25, including at a Global Climate and Health Alliance event on health and climate change, and spoke at events addressing climate change in the context of just transition, business and human rights, the human right to participation, children and youth, youth voices in the Pacific, and gender. She also participated in an event to launch a new ECLAC/OHCHR publication on Climate change and human rights: contributions by and for Latin America and the Caribbean and an Intergovernmental Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Change. On International Human Rights Day (10 December), the High Commissioner delivered a human rights day statement on youth and climate change.

COP24 (Katowice, December 2018)

Ahead of the Conference, the High Commissioner issued a letter to all Permanent Missions in Geneva and New York about the importance of incorporating human rights in the implementation guidelines for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This was the first visit by a High Commissioner to a COP. During the negotiations, OHCHR called for explicit integration of human rights and related principles in relevant outcomes, including the NDC guidelines.

In 2018, the Office spearheaded a joint submission by OHCHR, UN Women and ILO to the Durban Forum on Capacity-Building which resulted in the Forum, with continued support from OHCHR, addressing the issue of human rights capacity-building for climate action an issue which was, in turn, taken up by the Paris Committee on Capacity-Building.

COP23 (Bonn, November 2017)

In collaboration with Fiji, the Office organized the first official human rights event at a UNFCCC COP. The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Prime Minister of Fiji and the President of the Marshall Islands participated alongside high-level representatives of civil society, the UNFCCC and others. COP23 adopted the Gender Action Plan (GAP) of the UNFCCC, under the Lima Work Programme, to guide ongoing work on gender-responsive approaches to climate change. OHCHR advocated for the GAP to ensure equal participation of women in climate change negotiations and decisions, in addition to equal representation of women in all of the work of the UNFCCC.

COP22 (Marrakech, November 2016)

The Office convened an expert meeting on climate change and human rights, which brought together States, civil society organizations, UN agencies and experts for interactive, multi-stakeholder discussions elaborating recommendations for rights-based actions that was presented at several side events. OHCHR participated in and co-sponsored a number of these, distributed informational materials, sponsored expert panellists on indigenous peoples' rights and the right to health, and engaged in numerous bilateral and multi-lateral meetings with negotiators, civil society and other stakeholders. To increase its engagement with the UNFCCC, the Office made submissions on the Nairobi Work Programme (adaptation and health), the Lima Work Programme (gender), the Paris Committee on Capacity-Building, and modalities for implementation of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Mechanism.

COP21 (Paris, November - December 2015)

The negotiations leading to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the first universal, legally binding climate change agreement to explicitly include human rights, concluded at COP21. The High Commissioner for Human Rights explicitly called for a 1.5 degree target, a stand for high ambition supported by the findings of several HRC special procedures mechanisms in a report on 1.5 degrees requested by the Climate Vulnerable Forum and by the findings of the scientific community through the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The human rights case for higher ambition, including the aforementioned joint special procedures report, furnished the "high ambition coalition" resulting in the adoption of a 1.5 degree aspirational target with a hard ceiling of 2.0 degrees.

With an eye toward the COP21 discussions, OHCHR and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice co-hosted a Climate Justice Dialogue in Geneva on 9 February 2015. The dialogue brought together delegates to the UNFCCC and the HRC, experts, and key civil society actors to discuss human rights and climate change. One outcome of this meeting was the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action, an initiative led by Costa Rica to facilitate the sharing of best practices and knowledge between human rights and climate experts at a national level. The pledge currently has 34 signatories.

The negotiation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015 provided further opportunities to advocate integration of human rights within the framework of international efforts to promote sustainable development.

Other OHCHR submissions to the UNFCCC and related mechanisms