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Human Rights

Declarations and Violations

Human rights are a set of moral and legal guidelines, based on principles of equality and fairness, that promote and protect the inherent value and dignity of each person, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Climate change greatly threatens human rights, accelerating poverty, conflict and inequality. This undermines the ability of states, in turn, to fulfill, promote and protect these rights and fundamental freedoms.

Climate change implicates the rights to life, health, housing, food, water, an adequate standard of living, self-determination, sanitation, culture and development, not to be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, and the right to a remedy. More controversial rights include the right to a clean environment, intergenerational equity and sustainability. Every state complies partially with these obligations, but issues remain about enforceability.

Key recommendations include adopting a human-rights based approach to corporate regulations, encouraging community voice and participatory consultation. Persons affected must also be equipped with education and tools to protect and enforce their human rights, putting power in the hands of persons affected by climate change to seek remedies for its impacts. 

Applying a human rights-based approach to key climate change issues is essential to ensure a just transition and to ensure that developed countries “lead” in emissions reductions recognising their “common but differentiated” responsibility (CBDR). States, responsible for human rights, have committed to assist developing countries with equitable adaptation, mitigation and resilience measures, as well as technology sharing. This is designed to develop substantial protections for the most vulnerable, who are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. However, human rights must be made real, rather than simply agreed to. 


The summons of the climate case against Shell, summarised

By: ActionAid International

Summary of legal case.

Links: Equity, corporations.

Milieudefensie, 17,200 co-claimants and 6 other organizations have demanded that Shell, responsible for 1.8% of all CO2 emissions, must contribute to achieving the global climate goal to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, arguing that Shell’s business model poses a threat to this, and that Shell is violating its legal duty of care, endangering human rights and lives. The case argues that Shell was aware of the wide-scale impacts of climate change since 1986, and its failure to take sufficient action is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In the Urgenda case it was established that companies must also respect human rights, and can be held responsible for these breaches. Shell adopts this responsibility further with statements of its commitment to human rights, and having voluntarily joined international treaties in which companies declare that they adhere to human rights (including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises).

Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The Role of the Land Sector In Ambitious Climate Action

By: Climate Ambitions and Rights Alliance, 2018.
Link: Agriculture, Indigenous Peoples

The report focuses on ambition and solution pathways to low-risk land-sector approaches that protect, restore and sustainably manage natural ecosystems, while respecting human rights. The report proposes three broad people and planet-centric solutions: strengthening Indigenous and community land rights, restoring forests and
other ecosystems, transforming agriculture. These will promote Indigenous rights, the rights of ecosystem defenders, and ensure ecosystem integrity and food security.


Paris Climate Justice Brief #2
Equity and Human Rights

By Third World Network, Nov 2010

Links to: equity, mitigation

Tags: collective responsibility

Human rights are critical to responding to climate change in a way that protects the most vulnerable. One country’s actions can impact people on other countries, and those who contribute least to climate change are likely to become the most impacted. As such, equity lays the foundations for a fair response by states which recognises the rights of local communities, emphasises the collective responsibility of states and redresses the loss and damage which has arisen from these inequalities. In mitigation and adaptation, equity must be embedded in a rights-based treaty framework, including a recognition of historical and relative responsibility for climate change and substantial protections for the most vulnerable. A rights-based approach would emphasise phasing out fossil fuels with finance and technological support for a clean energy transition in developing countries.

Market solutions to help climate victims fail human rights test

By: ActionAid International
Case study of market solutions to climate impacts.
Link: Mitigation

The 17-day storm Idai, in March of 2019, was the second deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, causing catastrophic damage, leaving more than 1,200 people dead, thousands missing, and displacing tens of thousands, with continuing effects impacting food and water security and the outbreak of deadly vector-borne diseases. Devastation caused by floods, droughts, wildfires, cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes will continue worsening as rising global temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events, displacing people from their ancestral homes, decreasing agricultural yields and leading to the collapse of coastal infrastructure. This report concludes that market and state proposals for repairing the harmful impacts of climate change do not  provide transparency and accountability, and most put the financial burden back on developing countries, who are least responsible for causing the climate crisis. As such they fail to comply with key human rights principles. The report recommends reducing subsidies for fossil fuels to raise hundreds of billions of dollars to address loss and damage.

Undermining Women’s Rights: Australia’s global fossil fuel footprint

By: ActionAid International
Link: Mitigation

The report examines the impacts of coal, oil and gas extraction on women in low income countries. The gendered impacts of fossil fuel projects include women’s exclusion from decision-making, increased risk of food insecurity, unpaid labour, demand for sex work, gender-based violence, and HIV infection rates. Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to be killed in disasters. It recommends the introduction of corporate accountability regulations to mitigate the risk of human
rights violations.

Paris climate rules must go in the 'rights' direction

By: Teresa Anderson, 2018
Development of human-rights based climate rules.
Link: Mitigation

Disasters are decimating food security, and in some parts of the world, up to 80 percent of farmers are women, who face particular vulnerabilities, challenges and burdens because of their gender. Adaptation efforts must take into account gender and promote gender equality, per the Preamble of the Paris Agreement. Proposed adaptation measures, such as large-scale geo-engineering technologies may disrupt human rights dramatically as farmers, indigenous peoples and women are the first to lose their land rights. In order to adapt the Agreement and Rulebook to the needs of vulnerable people, intergenerational equity and public participation must be embedded throughout the text, as well as in monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

See: CLARA briefing on strategies and principles.

Power for the People: Delivering Decentralized, Community-Controlled Renewable Energy Access

By: Brandon Wu (ActionAid USA), Dr. Anne Schiffer (Friends of the Earth Scotland), Bridget Burns (WEDO)
Overhauling of energy systems, 2016.
Link: Energy

Mitigation requires a rapid shift to renewable energy sources, however global inequities are also intricately tied with current systems of energy consumption. Many of the world live in energy poverty, without access to sufficient energy for basic needs and services inherent to a dignified standard of living. This paper proposes a conceptual model for democratised, decentralised, community-controlled renewable energy to promote climate justice.

Climate Change Knows No Borders: An analysis of climate induced migration, protection gaps and need for solidarity in South Asia

By: ActionAid International
Link: Migration/Displacement.

Case studies of South Asian nations particularly vulnerable to climate change effects reveal a long history of migration as conflict, poverty, land access and ethnicity have displaced peoples while development, livelihood, seasonal labour, kinship and access to services have drawn them in. These push and pull factors have exaggerated effects on human rights and there are significant gaps in knowledge and monitoring, such as intolerance, labour rights, rapid urbanisation and the effect on South Asian migrant women.

Climate Justice Briefs #12
Human Rights and Climate Justice

By Third World Network, Nov 2010

Links to: carbon markets, finance, mitigation, adaptation, equity, indigenous peoples, health

Tags: rights-based agenda, remedy, past injustices

Climate change is among the greatest threats to human rights, accelerating poverty and inequality, and in so doing undermining the ability of states to fulfill, promote and protect the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of their people. Climate change implicates the rights to life, health, housing, food, water, an adequate standard of living, self-determination and the right not to be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, among others. A critical obligation to affected peoples is the right to a remedy for adverse climate impacts, especially relevant for vulnerable people and communities (e.g. indigenous peoples) who are disproportionately affected. This obligates developed countries to adopt a human rights based agenda to key issues and “lead” in emissions reductions, and assist developing countries with adaptation, mitigation and resilience measures as well as technology sharing.

Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

By Naomi Klein, 2016


Lens: Contrasts the anecdotal experience about the urgency of climate action with evidence

Tags: carbon markets, othering, dehumanisation, strategy

The culture that allows climate change to occur has dehumanisation and ‘othering’ at its core, allowing Governments and corporations to rationalise the escalating human rights abuses that come from it; we ignore the harm caused to people in ‘sacrifice zones’ on the other side of the world, and we export the largest environmental impacts to the poor. Large parts of the Middle East may be uninhabitable by the end of this century, due to the continent’s vulnerability to heat, sea-level rise, desertification and resource scarcity, each of which are linked to greater conflict and displacement. However, the response to this has been indifference and distrust towards environmentalism in light of short term threats to security, human rights and basic needs - which demands a more inclusive campaigning model that ties together issues and movements. For example, carbon offset markets undercut the human rights of indigenous populations by excluding them from their land without just compensation.

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