Arguments for including protection with legal traction for human rights in any Paris climate accord received a boost from a United Nations report released on December 10, International Human Rights Day, making clear the link between mitigating climate change and meeting national obligations on rights.
The United Nations Environment Program report “Climate Change and Human Rights” shows “in detail how climate change threatens our ability to enjoy our human rights,” UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John H. Knox said, “and also how the exercise of human rights can inform and guide our climate policies.”
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The report (available here), details climate changes that are already impacting human rights through alteration of freshwater resources and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as ocean and coastal resources. These are having negative impacts on food security, livelihoods, health, and security.
“Human rights law imposes affirmative legal obligations on all states to protect human rights from climate harms, particularly the rights of persons in vulnerable situations, and to ensure accountability, including redress, where harms are suffered” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We are living in an age of widespread breach of these obligations.”
Al Hussein emphasized the avoidable nature of these harms. “Climate change is the result of choices made by human beings,” he said, “and has devastating impacts on a wide range of internationally guaranteed human rights—the rights to food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and health—for millions of people.”
To bring countries into compliance with human rights obligations, the report urges that a Paris agreement include
- A schedule for assessing and revisiting country commitments with the aim of increasing, over time, the ambition of the climate targets set by countries;
- A reference to the effects of climate change on the exercise of human rights and the need to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights in all climate-related activities; and
- Social safeguards in climate funds to take into account human rights considerations.