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 recognize 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.

The consequences for Malaysia in the coming decade and beyond will be dramatic, and the worst hit will be those already living in poverty

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

“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


This video featuring the UN High Commissioner was produced by the Asia Pacific Forum in 2018

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.

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.

Key reference documents