Climate Change and Human Rights
On the occasion of Human Rights Day, we, as human rights experts of the United Nations system, urge Member States to integrate human rights standards and principles in the climate change negotiations during the current Lima Climate Change Conference taking place from 1 to 12 December 2014 and in the agreement to be adopted in Paris in 2015. We have been following with great interest climate change negotiations and on 17 October 2014 we submitted an Open Letter to the State Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on the occasion of the meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action in Bonn (20-25 October 2014)1.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation with consequences that transform life on earth and adversely impact the livelihood of many people. It poses great risks and threats to the environment, human health, accessibility and inclusion, access to water, sanitation and food, security, and economic and social development. These impacts of climate change interfere with the effective enjoyment of human rights. In particular, climate change has a disproportionate effect on many disadvantaged, marginalized, excluded and vulnerable individuals and groups, including those whose ways of life are inextricably linked to the environment. All individuals, without discrimination, should be considered as a resource for resilience and their equal participation in resilience building activities should also be recognised.
Human rights can also be threatened through mitigation and adaptation measures seeking to reduce, control and prevent climate change and its impacts. Where such measures are adopted without the full and effective participation of concerned individuals and communities, they can result in violations of human rights and may lead to the adoption of measures that are unsustainable and not responding to the needs of rights-holders.
To prevent such adverse impacts, States must incorporate their existing obligations under the human rights framework into the climate change negotiations. Applying human rights in the context of climate change brings many benefits. It moves the rights of affected individuals and communities centre stage in all response strategies. The human rights framework focuses our attention on the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups requiring adaptation policies and measures, inclusive disaster risk reduction planning and resilience strategies on the basis of non-discrimination and equality. Climate justice sees the effect and causes of climate change in relation to the concept of justice, namely, whether the rights of most marginalized and vulnerable populations are taken into account when implementing response measures and whether such measures are fair, equitable and transparent.
As we celebrate this year’s Human Rights Day, the Special Procedures mandate-holders will continue to support all those involved in understanding and integrating human rights to climate actions. We further call on States:
- to make sure that human rights are at the core of climate change governance. Human rights must be pivotal in the ongoing negotiations and the new agreement must be firmly anchored in the human rights framework. Any response to climate change must respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights. Understanding and addressing the human consequences of climate change are fundamental and therefore, climate change cannot be effectively addressed without protecting human rights, including the principle of climate justice. We therefore renew our call on the Member States to include language in the 2015 climate agreement that provides that the Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights for all. And we urge the State Parties at COP 20 in Lima to launch a work program to ensure that human rights are integrated into all aspects of climate actions, taking into consideration the impact of climate change in the lives of all people, without discrimination
- to encourage the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to formally recognize Human Rights Day and to formally mark Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015 at COP21 in Paris.