English Site French Site Spanish Site Russian Site Arabic Site Chinese Site OHCHR header
Make a donation to OHCHR

Human rights and climate change


Aerial view of a village drowning in the water floods caused by tropical storm Hanna, Haiti, 03 September 2008 © UN Photo/Marco DorminoIt is becoming apparent that climate change will have implications for the enjoyment of human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Council recognized this in its resolution 7/23 (PDF) “Human rights and climate change” (28 March 2008), expressing concern that climate change “poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the word” and requesting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner to prepare a study on the

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) put it beyond doubt that the global climate system is warming and doing so mainly because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. IPCC reports and other studies document how global warming will affect, and already is affecting, the basic elements of life for millions of people around the world. Effects include an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts, increasing water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector born diseases.

Viewing the data through a human rights lens, it is clear that projected climate change-related effects threaten the effective enjoyment of a range of human rights, such as the right to safe and adequate water and food, the right to health and adequate housing. Equally, the human rights perspective brings into focus that climate change is set to hit the poorest countries and communities the hardest.

The international human rights standards serve as a guide for measures to tackle climate change, underscoring the fundamental moral and legal obligations to protect and promote full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the core universal human rights treaties.

Rio + 20: building “The Future We Want”

Rio + 20 (Word doc), the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 20 to 22 June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Discussions will focus on two main themes: how to build a green economy to lift people out of poverty without destroying the environment; and how to improve international coordination for sustainable development.

In an open letter to all Permanent Missions in New York and in Geneva (PDF), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has emphasized the responsibilities all States have to ensure full coherence between efforts to advance the green economy, on the one hand, and their human rights obligations on the other.

The Conference is expected to lay the foundations for a set of Global Sustainable Development Goals to complement and strengthen the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Action by the Human Rights Council

On 28 March 2008, the Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on “human rights and climate change” (res. 7/23). In implementation of that resolution, OHCHR prepared and submitted a study on the relationship between climate change and human rights (A/HRC/10/61) to the tenth session of the Council held in March 2009. On 25 March 2009, the Council adopted resolution 10/4 “Human rights and climate change” in which it, inter alia, notes that “climate change-related impacts have a range of implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of human rights …”; recognizes that the effects of climate change “will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population who are already in a vulnerable situation …”, recognizes that “effective international cooperation to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change … is important in order to support national efforts for the realization of human rights implicated by climate change-related impacts”, and affirms that “human rights obligations and commitments have the potential to inform and strengthen international and national policy-making in the area of climate change”.

In resolution 10/4, the Council decided to hold a panel discussion on the relationship between climate change and human rights at its eleventh session in order to contribute to the realization of the goals set out in the Bali Action Plan. The panel discussion was held on 15 June 2009 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, from 3.00 to 6.00 p.m. (see webcast and summary of discussions).

In implementation of resolutions 7/23 and 10/4, the OHCHR study and a summary of the Council’s discussions will be made available to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15) for its consideration.

Human Rights Council seminar on human rights and climate change (23-24 February 2012)

In September 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted its third resolution on “human rights and climate change,” resolution 18/22. This time, the resolution was tabled by the Philippines and Bangladesh, with the support of 43 cosponsors including the Maldives, Germany, and Spain. Resolution 18/22 affirmed that human rights obligations, standards, and principles have the potential to inform and strengthen international and national policy making in the area of climate change, promoting policy coherence, legitimacy, and sustainable outcomes.

Pursuant to resolution 18/22 OHCHR will convened a seminar to address the adverse impacts of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights, with a view to following up on the call for respecting human rights in all climate change-related actions and policies and forging stronger cooperation between the human rights and climate change communities.

The seminar’s objectives were to further awareness and enhance understanding of the relationship between climate change and human rights, suggest actions and identify best practices that address the adverse effects of climate change on human rights; and enhance cooperation between human rights and climate change-awareness advocates. The seminar was held from 23-24 February 2012, at Palais des Nations  and a summary report will be presented at the June 2012 session of the Council and made available to the 18th session of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP18).

Seminar documents:

Seminar videos:


Opening Session:

Session 1:

Session 2:

Session 3:

Session 4:

Closing Session: