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OHCHR and climate change

“The human implications of currently projected levels of global heating are catastrophic.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 9 September 2019, Opening Statement to the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council


Climate change threatens the effective enjoyment of a range of human rights including those to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development. States have a human rights obligation to prevent the foreseeable adverse effects of climate change and ensure that those affected by it, particularly those in vulnerable situations, have access to effective remedies and means of adaptation to enjoy lives of human dignity.

Read more about how climate change impacts on human rights.

Role of OHCHR

The human rights framework spells out the responsibilities of duty bearers to rights-holders with respect to all human rights harms, including those caused by environmental degradation. OHCHR's 2018-2021 Office Management Plan aims at ensuring that: "International and national environmental and climate policies and plans increasingly are implemented in accordance with international human rights standards."

OHCHR aims, in line with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change, to promote a human rights-based approach to climate action. This requires that States take ambitious adaptation and mitigation measures that are inclusive and respectful of communities affected by climate change.

We aim to achieve this through:

  • Collaboration with partners to integrate human rights in environmental laws and policies;
  • Support for the inclusion of civil society in environmental decision-making processes, access to information and effective remedies for victims;
  • Assisting human rights mechanisms to address environmental issues, including climate change;
  • Advocacy on behalf of environmental human rights defenders and supporting efforts by the UN system to protect them;
  • Research and advocacy to address human rights harms caused by environmental degradation, particularly to groups in vulnerable situations.

Our engagement on environmental issues has already had substantial impact. OHCHR's involvement in Rio+20 led to the inclusion of human rights references in the outcome document "The Future We Want." Our advocacy and the work of the special procedures mechanisms of the Human Rights Council contributed to the inclusion of human rights and the 1.5 °C global target in the Paris Agreement.

OHCHR’s field presences are implementing a range of projects and activities on human rights and climate change: OHCHR field presences in Kenya and Mexico are working to catalyze rights-based environmental action including through support to networks for protection of environmental human rights defenders. In the Sahel region, OHCHR is addressing the human rights, migration and climate change nexus by building knowledge and understanding and promoting a rights-based and gender-responsive approach to migratory challenges posed by climate change. Its Regional Offices for South-East Asia and for the Pacific are advocating for human rights of persons affected by climate change and supporting environmental human rights defenders.

Through a broad range of activities, OHCHR’s South-East Asia Regional Office actively advocates for a human rights based approach to guide State’s climate actions and environmental policies with a focus on the principles of participation, non-discrimination, and right to remedy and reparation as well as vulnerable populations; supports climate and environmental rights defenders work; engages with the UN human rights mechanisms on environmental rights and climate change; and cooperates with other UN agencies and National Human Rights Institutions on issues related to human rights, the environment and climate change.

OHCHR´s Central America Regional Office main activities on human rights and climate change have focused, among others, on supporting environmental human rights defenders and the ratification of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as the Escazú Agreement - including in Belize and El Salvador. The Escazú Agreement is the first regional environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and the first treaty to include specific provisions for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in environmental matters which is particularly important in the LAC region that is considered one of the most dangerous for those who defend the environment.

Read more about OHCHR's role in climate change and human rights.

Read more about OHCHR’s work on the right to development

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