Climate change and human rights



The world has never seen a challenge to human rights like climate change. And for many communities – especially those living in island nations and less developed countries – the climate crisis has already begun.

Fundamental rights – including the rights to life, self-determination, development, food, health, housing, water and sanitation – are under grave threat.

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) have jointly committed to human rights-based action on climate change to support communities and preserve the environment.

We recognise the importance of protecting the environment and biodiversity for present and future generations
2020 GANHRI Annual Conference Statement


NHRIs are staunch supporters of climate justice. This means that efforts to address climate change must leave no one behind. Specifically, climate justice means:

  • Addressing the climate crisis with a human rights-based approach while making progress towards a just transition to a zero-carbon economy
  • Ensuring that decisions on climate change are participatory, non-discriminatory and accountable, with the benefits and burden of climate action shared equitably
  • Those most affected by climate change have access to effective remedies, including financial support.

Climate change commitments by NHRIs

At the 2020 GANHRI Annual Conference, NHRIs from all regions pledged to work individually and collectively to promote human rights-based climate action. The conference statement – Climate Change: The Role of National Human Rights Institutions – sets out the practical ways that NHRIs will work for climate justice.

GANHRI will support NHRIs worldwide to make progress on these commitments, individually and collectively.

At the national level, NHRIs will:

  • Report to and advise government and other stakeholders on a human rights-based approach to climate mitigation and adaptation measures
  • Promote sound policy measures related to climate change and the environment
  • Promote and monitor environmental, social and human rights risk and impact assessments prior to the start of project
  • Advocate for climate action policies that integrate the expertise of local communities and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples
  • Include climate change and environmental perspectives into our investigation of complaints and base our advocacy and policy advice on our findings
  • Support individuals who are negatively impacted by climate change or mitigation measures to have an effective access to remedy
  • Advocate protection for environmental human rights defenders, who can face various forms of violence and prosecution.

At the international level, NHRIs will:

  • Play a ‘bridging’ role to support the exchange of information between policymakers, civil society and other stakeholders, including groups most affected by climate change
  • Engage in national, regional and international processes to promote human rights-based action on climate change, including in relation to nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
NHRIs can help promote much more effective, informed and participatory climate action – action that can benefit people’s rights and preserve the environment 
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

In undertaking monitoring and reporting, NHRIs will:

  • Report the findings of monitoring the human rights implications of climate change, including mitigation and adaptation measures, to national, international and regional human rights mechanisms
  • Make monitoring results publicly available, including to climate action processes
  • Collect disaggregated data and promote the participation of groups that can be particularly at risk to climate change, such as women and girls, elderly people, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples

NHRIs will act cooperatively with:

  • Existing environmental and climate initiatives, as well as movements that uphold human rights standards and principles
  • NHRIs in their region and collectively through GANHRI
  • The UN system, in particular OHCHR, UNDP and UNEP, recognizing the Secretary- General’s Call to Action for Human Rights.

Practical Guidance for NHRIs on Addressing Human Rights and Climate Change 

GANHRI released a Practical Guidance for NHRIs on Addressing Human Rights and Climate Change. 

The Practical Guidance provides:

  • information about how international human rights mechanisms have addressed the relationship between climate change and human rights;
  • information about how GANHRI members can engage with human rights and other international mechanisms on climate change;
  • mechanism for members to share their experiences with climate action. 

GANHRI and UNEP collaboration

The objective of the collaboration between GANHRI and UNEP will specifically ensure that civil society organizations, private sector institutions, media, and the general public have enhanced access to information on legal frameworks, particularly rights and obligations, pertinent to environmental protection, and have taken measures to strengthen legal frameworks and/or their implementation.  

The project will be implemented through a partnership with UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, OHCHR, and UNDP and consists of three main activities for execution.  

The first is to develop a global tool for NHRIs to assist monitoring and reporting on human rights implications of climate change and other environmental issues. 

The second is to organize a webinar series on the dissemination of the global tool to strengthen the monitoring and reporting capacity of NHRIs, which will be followed-up by a report.  

The third will comprise the development of a community of practice and knowledge sharing multimedia platform on the environment as part of the GANHRI’s knowledge management platform, FUSE.  

Finally, the fourth activity will include the organization of activities for COP26 and the launch of the toolkit.  

This project is a landmark for both GANHRI and NHRIs in affirming the vitality of human rights work and how crucial their efforts are in contributing to the prevalent issues of the world.  


NHRI Caucus on Human Rights and Climate Change 

In light of the specific collaboration and cooperation with the UN partners on climate change, GANHRI is facilitating the establishment of a Caucus of NHRIs interested in working together on human rights and climate change.  

The Caucus is a unique place where NHRIs from all four regions have an opportunity to discuss, debate, share knowledge and identify and collect experiences, as well as coordinate actions and activities. The Caucus has an initial term of two years, until the end of 2022, which coincides with the implementation period of the current GANHRI Strategic plan.   

The Objectives of the Caucus will be:  

  1. To promote cooperation and information sharing among NHRIs across all regions through the exchange of good practices and lessons learned on human rights and climate change. 
  1. To contribute to the achievement of the goals of the GANHRI Strategic Plan (2020-2022) in the thematic area of human rights and climate change, including through supporting GANHRI’ s implementation of activities with UNEP cooperation with other UN partners. 
  1. To substantially contribute to GANHRI’s engagement and advocacy on Climate Change at the global level, in particular coordinate GANHRI’s and NHRIs’ engagement in the COP 26 meeting and other relevant thematic meetings. 

The Caucus will actively be working in close coordination with the GANHRI Head Office, as well as with similar regional working groups, when they exist, and with fellow UN partners such as UNDP, OHCHR and UNEP.