Human Rights and International Climate Politics


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Existing human rights obligations defined in international treaties and under national constitutions apply to all policies and issues under the control of governments. Consequently, all states already have the duty to fulfil their respective human rights obligations when taking climate action. As climate change requires ambitious policies and innovative responses, integrating human rights effectively in climate action requires specific approaches when designing and implementing related policies. Integrating these obligations allows synergies to be enhanced between climate action and human rights, and to prevent potential conflicts.

As the first international agreement under which all countries undertook specific commitments to reduce their emissions, the Paris Agreement was a major diplomatic success. It restructures the work of the international community in the answers it brings to the challenges posed by climate change – including both mitigation and adaptation. In its preamble, the Paris Agreement also contains particularly explicit provisions on how respect for fundamental rights must guide all climate action. It thus accords the most advanced linkage with human rights of any international environmental law instrument.

In this document, we demonstrate how human rights issues can now guide the implementation of this Agreement and what the steps are now needed to achieve this. We begin with a comprehensive review of provisions of the Paris Agreement that relate directly or indirectly to the respect and promotion of human rights.

The work that was done by the United Nations human rights bodies already before the Copenhagen conference in 2009 and during preparation of the Paris Agreement will continue. It is summarised here with suggestions for strengthening the coherence of international institutions action linking these two areas of human rights and climate change.

Upcoming conferences, particularly the UNFCCC COP-22
in Marrakech in November 2016 and the G-20 Summit in Hamburg in July 2017 will be important steps for the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. These events offer an opportunity to strengthen action to prevent climate change from causing growing and massive violations of human rights while avoiding response policies from causing further harm.

  • Publisher: The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
  • Author(s): SébaStien Duyck, yveS LaDor
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