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Annual conference of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions

Climate Change: The role of National Human Rights Institutions

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

4 December 2020

Greetings to all of you. I commend the work that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has been doing and, in particular, how it has addressed climate change. This work is essential to the protection of all human rights.

Climate change is already damaging the effective enjoyment of a broad range of human rights – including the right to life, to development and to cultural life. Entire States are threatened. Ultimately, climate change threatens life on our planet.

NHRIs can help promote much more effective, informed and participatory climate action – action that can both benefit people's rights, and preserve our environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the deep links between a healthy environment, human health and human rights. To recover better, and prevent future global shocks – including viral pandemics – we must protect the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

In the past few years, we have had the pleasure to work with GANHRI in the organization of this Annual Conference and other activities, as well as, with many individual NHRIs seeking to engage on the issue of human rights and climate change.

This work has helped put in action the human rights frameworks that ensure moral, ethical and legal accountability for climate commitments. For these efforts to take hold, there must be both political will and adequate understanding of the links between human rights and climate change. Human rights must become part of the climate solution.

As State bodies with a broad mandate to promote and protect human rights, NHRIs play a key role in climate mitigation and adaptation by educating the public about the human rights impacts of environmental harms; monitoring these impacts; and advising governments to adopt human rights-based environmental policies.

They can also handle complaints and promote accountability, at a national level and through regional and universal human rights mechanisms.

I have been impressed by the valuable and important work being done by many NHRIs, even in today's extraordinary circumstances, and I hope you have already begun sharing and discussing some of these experiences during the first day of this annual meeting.

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, OHCHR has been working hard to integrate human rights considerations throughout the measurement, review and verification processes that the Agreement established, as well as in nationally determined contributions.

But even before COVID hit, fulfilment of the Paris Agreement was already lagging. The pandemic must be a wake-up call that leads States to renew their efforts to achieve these vital commitments.

NHRIS can play an important role in this effort, by raising awareness among officials and the public; submitting parallel reports on human rights and climate change to the UNFCCC and to human rights mechanisms; providing technical advice to their Governments and Parliaments; supporting the integration of human rights in national climate policies and communications; and providing a platform for the airing of climate grievances.

I wish you a fruitful discussion today, and success in your endeavours.

Thank you.