Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

Investor-State dispute settlements have catastrophic consequences for the environment and human rights: UN expert

20 October 2023

NEW YORK (20 October 2023) – A UN expert has warned of the devastating effects of Investor-State dispute settlement with dire consequences for a wide range of human rights and climate action.

“At a time when it is imperative that States accelerate the pace and ambition of climate and environmental action to prevent planetary catastrophe and fulfil their human rights obligations, a daunting obstacle has emerged,” said David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment presenting his report today to the General Assembly.

His report chronicles compelling evidence that a secretive international arbitration process called investor-State dispute settlement has become a major obstacle to urgent actions needed to address the planetary environmental and human rights crises.

“Foreign investors use the dispute settlement process to seek exorbitant compensation from States that strengthen environmental protection, with the fossil fuel and mining industries already winning over $100 billion in awards,” the expert said. “Such cases create regulatory chill.”

The surge in fossil-fuel ISDS claims could not come at a worse time. Humanity has reached the now or never point for achieving the Paris Agreement objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, a goal that requires achieving net zero emissions by 2050 - incompatible with new coal, oil or gas developments.

Governments fulfilling their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change may be liable to oil and gas corporations for $340 billion in future ISDS cases – a major disincentive for ambitious climate action.

“As ISDS arbitration tribunals routinely prioritise foreign investment and corporate interests above environmental and human rights considerations, ISDS claims have devastating consequences for a wide range of human rights, exacerbating the disproportionate harms suffered by vulnerable and marginalised populations,” the expert said.

As the overwhelming majority of fossil fuel and mining ISDS claims are brought by investors from the global North against respondent States in the global South, the ISDS system has especially devastating consequences for the global South, perpetuating extractivism and economic colonialism.

The Special Rapporteur identifies specific actions that States must take to avoid future claims under the investor-State dispute settlement process and fulfil their human rights obligations in his report.

David R. Boyd (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on 1 August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

Follow the Special Rapporteur on Twitter: @SREnvironment

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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms Viktoria Aberg ([email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

Concerned about the world we live in?
Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today.
and visit the web page at