international council on human right
Climate change and human rights (2008)
What are the human rights implications of climate change? From new health risks, such as the increased incidence of malaria, to mass migration, to threatened food and water supplies, to the disappearance of shelter, land, livelihoods and cultures, climate change creates human rights concerns at every turn. Yet remarkably little study to date has focused systematically on their interconnection.
This situation is unlikely to last. As the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, those affected will turn to human rights to frame their claims and to demand responses. Some are already doing so. And as consensus on the need for urgent action to address global warming grows, it will drive numerous other economic, political and social agendas − with further human rights implications.
Human rights are not merely relevant to climate change impacts, however. Mitigation and adaptation strategies each open up hard human rights questions: assigning accountability for extraterritorial harms; allocating burdens and benefits, rights and duties among perpetrators and victims, both public and private; constructing reliable enforcement mechanisms. Human rights advocates will be forced to look hard at large justice issues they can usually set aside.
In thinking through these connections, foresight but also caution will be needed. Human rights can seem intellectually invasive; a tendency to think in moral absolutes can cloud rather than clarify complex issues. Human rights lawyers are not known for seeking consensus or conciliation, both generally thought critical to the negotiation of policies that can successfully address climate change. At the same time, profound justice claims have been raised repeatedly in the course of climate change negotiations only to be finally neglected or removed.
The Council commenced research on this subject in 2007, in order to help orient human rights thinking about climate change and to frame the relevant issues clearly. Our aim has been to identify, on one hand, whether human rights principles, law and policy are equipped for the immense problems generated by global warming and, on the other, how human rights tools can aid in constructing a just regime to manage and mitigate climate change effects.
In June 2008, the Council published a report mapping the principal areas of human rights concern raised by climate change and exploring some of the possible benefits and dangers of adopting human rights tools and principles in the climate change domain (available here).
In mid-2009, a collection of articles on climate change and human rights was published by the Council together with Cambridge University Press. The first collection to deal systematically with these issues, the book features a group of well-known experts on a range of related themes.
The Council has further undertaken research into the human rights dimensions of climate technology policies. This research will lead to a series of short briefing papers and recommendations through 2009, culminating in a full report in 2010.
Biographical affiliation was accurate when research took place.
Stephen Humphreys, Research Director, ICHRP. Prior to joining the Council, Stephen Humphreys was Senior Officer, Communications, responsible for publications and communications at the Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational human rights program of the Open Society Institute (OSI) in New York. Before that, he oversaw a project monitoring minority rights in ten Eastern European countries for OSI’s EU Monitoring and Advocacy Programme (EUMAP), based in Budapest, Hungary. Between 1997 and 1999 he worked with ENDA Tiers Monde’s Programme Energie, in Dakar, Senegal, researching and publishing on climate change and development. In the mid-1990s, he lectured in English literature at Budapest’s ELTE University. Stephen has a Master’s in international law from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and has a Ph.D. in international law at the University of Cambridge. Please contact him for more information on this project.
Simon Caney, Professor in Political Theory, Oxford University; Fellow and Tutor in Politics, Magdalen College. Publications include: Justice Beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory; Human Rights and Global Diversity, co-edited with Peter Jones; National Rights, International Obligations, co-edited with David George and Peter Jones. Prof. Caney is currently writing Global Justice and Climate Change with Dr Derek Bell.
Stefanie Grant, A lawyer specialising in issues relating to migration, nationality and refugees. She is a Board Member of ICHRP, of AMERA UK, and of Independent Diplomat.
Peter Newell, Professor of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia and James Martin Fellow at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment. He sits on the Board of One World Trust. He is author of Climate for Change: Non-State Actors and the Global Politics of the Greenhouse, co-author of The Effectiveness of EUEnvironmental Policy, and co-editor of Development and the Challenge of Globalisation, The Business of Global Environmental Governance and Rights, Resources and the Politics of Accountability.
Dinah Shelton, Manatt/Ahn Professor of International Law at the George Washington University Law School. She is the author of three prize-winning books, Protecting Human Rights in the Americas (co-authored with Thomas Buergenthal), Remedies in International Human Rights Law and the three volume Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity. She is a member of the board of editors of the American Journal of International Law and is a counsellor to the American Society of International Law. Professor Shelton also serves on the boards of many human rights and environmental organisations. She has also served as a legal consultant to UNEP, UNITAR, WHO, the EU, Council of Europe and the OAS.
Youba Sokona, Executive Secretary of the Observatory of the Sahara and the Sahel (OSS). He is on the boards of a number of organisations active in climate change, including the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and acted as Adviser to the Club of Madrid’s Global Leadership on Climate Action.
Daniel Taillant, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA), a non-profit group in Argentina.
An Anonymous donor
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“This report is the first systematic treatment of [this subject]. It is at the same time a concise
and lucid analysis of the social, economic, legal and ethical impact of expected climate changes.
It should be of interest to specialists and generalists alike.”Dharam Ghai, Former Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development
“Excellent.”Tariq Banuri, Senior Fellow, Stockholm Environmental Institute
“Very good … an important contribution to the human rights-climate change dialogue, not least
in how it sets out a pragmatic agenda that can be addressed by countries.”John Drexhage, Director, Climate Change and Energy Program, IISD