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COP21: “States’ human rights obligations encompass climate change” – UN expert

PARIS (3 December 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, today reminded all parties attending the Paris Climate Conference* that “States’ human rights obligations also encompass climate change,” and urged them to adopt a rights perspective in tackling environmental issues.

“Every State in the climate negotiations belongs to at least one human rights treaty, and they must ensure that all of their actions comply with their human rights obligations. That includes their actions relating to climate change,” Mr. Knox said in Paris, where he is taking part in the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties - COP 21.

Representatives of more than 190 States are gathered in Paris to discuss a possible new universal and legally binding agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the threat of dangerous warming due to human activities.

“I call on Governments to honour their human rights obligations as they negotiate the climate agreement,” the expert stated. “Even including a reference to human rights in the agreement itself would be of great symbolic and practical importance.” 

“It is now beyond debate that climate change threatens the enjoyment of a vast range of human rights. Moreover, it is inherently discriminatory, harming most those who have contributed least to the problem.”

“An increase of even 2 degrees would have devastating effects on the human rights of the most vulnerable,” he said.  “The Climate Vulnerable Forum countries’ proposed target of 1.5 degrees would better accord with human rights principles.”   

The Special Rapporteur also noted that States must also take human rights law into account in their actions to adapt to climate change and to undertake response measures.

“Governments do not check their human rights obligations at the door when they respond to climate change,” he said.  “They must respect the rights of their people to receive information about proposed climate actions and to have their voices heard in the decision-making processes.” 

Mr. Knox recalled that the Governments on the Human Rights Council have unanimously agreed that human rights obligations and principles can strengthen climate policy-making by promoting coherence, legitimacy and sustainable outcomes. 

“The Paris Agreement is vital to the protection of human rights of present and future generations, in every country of the world. The Agreement should recognize that fact,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

Mr. Knox delivers a keynote speech Friday 11 at the inaugural conference of the Climate Law and Governance Day, at the Sorbonne. 

(*) Paris Climate Conference - COP21: http://www.cop21paris.org/

The UN Human Rights Council appointed Professor John Knox in 2012 to serve as Independent Expert, and reappointed him in 2015 as Special Rapporteur, on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Council requested Mr. Knox, a professor of international law at Wake Forest University in the United States, to clarify the application of human rights norms to environmental protection, and to identify best practices in the use of human rights obligations in environmental policy-making. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/SREnvironment/Pages/SRenvironmentIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For earlier joint statements by the Special Procedures on climate change, read: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/ClimateChange/InfoNoteClimateChange.pdf

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 917 9778 / shwang@ohchr.org) or write to srenvironment@ohchr.org  

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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