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;
- a mechanism for members to share their experiences with climate action.
GANHRI Caucus on Human Rights and Climate Change
In light of the specific collaboration and cooperation with the UN partners on climate change, GANHRI established a Caucus comprised of 34 NHRIs from the four regions interested in working together on human rights and climate change.
The purpose of the GANHRI Caucus on Human Rights and Climate Change is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experiences and good practices among NHRIs across all regions in addressing climate change from a human rights-based approach.
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.
Activities of the Caucus reinforce the implementation of the objectives of the GANHRI Strategic Plan 2020 –2022, under which the theme of climate change and human rights was identified as a priority topic. 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 are:
- Support collaboration of NHRIs and building functional and effective networks;
- Build professional capacities in implementation of human rights based approach in climate governance;
- Run programs to facilitate technology-based joint learning communities and experience-based knowledge sharing (specifically in climate governance and addressing human rights challenges), at regional and national levels;
- Support NHRIs in their advocacy work, enhance policy coherence, on national, regional, and international level;
- Enhance global relevance of NHRIs, facilitate and support engagement of NHRIs and GANHRI in UN mechanisms and other global fora;
- Build cooperation with UN bodies and other global and international organizations; and
- Facilitate climate justice by building networks and strengthening expertise on climate litigation within NHRIs.
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.
Key reference documents
- Climate Change: The Role of National Human Rights Institutions; 2020 GANHRI Annual Conference Statement
- GANHRI Statement on climate change at HRC46
- GANHRI Statement on the right to healthy environment at HRC48
- Secretary- General’s Call to Action for Human Rights
- Safe Climate: A Report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
- The Right to a Healthy Environment and the Role of National Human Rights Institutions; Report from UNEP webinar series (November 2019)
- COP 26- NHRI Symposium Report
- Call on State Parties attending COP26 to raise emission reduction targets and bolster adaptation efforts to address the escalating human rights impacts of climate change.
- Human Rights Council resolutions and studies on climate change on older persons (A/HRC/RES/44/7; 2020); persons with disabilities (A/HRC/44/30; 2020); children (A/HRC/43/30; 2020; A/HRC/35/13; 2017); women (A/HRC/42/26; 2019); migrants (A/HRC/37/35; 2018); and physical and mental health (A/HRC/32/23; 2016).