OHCHR analytical study on climate change and human rights is now available

Measures to address climate change should be informed and strengthened by international human rights standards and principles, an analytical study by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concludes.

: A terrain in drought stricken Lodwar, Kenya - © Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRINThe OHCHR study, considered by the Human Rights Council during its current session from 2 to 27 March, will be made available to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen, in December.

“Climate change is one of the most serious challenges mankind has ever faced and has serious implications for the realization of human rights,” says High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in her contribution to the Climate Thinkers Blog, an online discussion forum hosted by the Copenhagen Conference.

“A human rights analysis brings into focus how lives of individuals and communities are affected and why human rights safeguards must be integrated into policies and measures to address climate change,” says Pillay, who points out that the OHCHR study has documented a range of climate change effects on human rights.

The study bases it premises on the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in its Fourth Assessment Report dispels any remaining doubts about the reality of global warming and details a range of climate change impacts. Many of these impacts are already affecting human rights across the globe.

It then discusses examples of specific human rights directly under threat in the face climate change, such as the rights to life, food, water, health, housing, and self-determination.

The study also explores how specific groups including women, children and indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental consequences of climate change.

"The effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population who are already in vulnerable situations due to factors such as poverty, gender, age, minority status, and disability.

“The application of a human rights approach in preventing and responding to the effects of climate change serves to empower individuals and groups, who should be perceived as active agents of change and not as passive victims,” the OHCHR study says.

In particular, a human rights framework “underlines the critical importance of effective participation of individuals and communities in decision-making processes affecting their lives.”

Expressing concern about the human rights impact of climate change, the Human Rights Council in March 2008 mandated OHCHR to conduct this analytical study. When considering the study at the current Council session, the government of the Maldives said that it would table a resolution requesting a panel debate on the subject at the Council's next session in June.

There is a “broad agreement that climate change has generally negative effects on the realization of human rights,” says the study, which has taken into account numerous submissions from governments, UN agencies and other intergovernmental organizations, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and individual experts throughout its consultation process.

The study underlines that governments have specific obligations under international human rights law to protect individuals whose rights are affected either by the physical impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme weather events, or by policies and measures to address climate change.

It emphasizes that climate change, as a truly global problem, can only be effectively addressed through international cooperation. Such cooperation is particularly critical because of the way climate change disproportionately affects poorer countries with the weakest capacity to protect their populations.

The study concludes that "human rights standards and principles should inform and strengthen policymaking in the area of climate change, promoting policy coherence and sustainable outcomes,” and that the realization of human rights remains a central objective of national and international action to address climate change.

March 2009