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Five UN human rights treaty bodies issue a joint statement on human rights and climate change.

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Joint Statement on "Human Rights and Climate Change"

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

16 September 2019

  1. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (together ‘the Committees’) welcome the convening of the Climate Action Summit by the UN Secretary General in September 2019, to mobilize plans and actions to enhance the ambition of emissions reduction. We urge all States to take into consideration their human rights obligations as they review their climate commitments.

2.The Committees welcome also the work of the international scientific community to further understand the implications of climate change and the solutions that could contribute to avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change. The Committees welcome in particular the report released in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concerning global warming of 1.5°C.

3.This report confirms that climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment of the human rights protected by the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The adverse impacts identified in the report, threaten, among others, the right to life, the right to adequate food, the right to adequate housing, the right to health, the right to water and cultural rights. These negative impacts are also illustrated in the damage suffered by the ecosystems which in turn affect the enjoyment of human rights. The risk of harm is particularly high for those segments of the population already marginalised or in vulnerable situations or that, due to discrimination and pre-existing inequalities, have limited access to decision-making or resources, such as women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and persons living in rural areas. Children are particularly at heightened risk of harm to their health, due to the immaturity of their body systems.

4.As reflected in CEDAW General Recommendation 37 (GR), climate change and disasters affect women and men, girls and boys differently, with many women and girls facing disproportionate risks and impacts on their health, safety and livelihoods. Situations of crisis exacerbate pre-existing gender inequalities and also compound intersecting forms of discrimination that affect disadvantaged groups of women and girls, particularly those with disabilities, to a different degree or in different ways than men or other women. The GR further recognises that climate change and disasters, including pandemics, influence the prevalence, distribution and severity of new and re-emerging diseases. The susceptibility of women and girls to disease is heightened as a result of inequalities in access to food, nutrition and health care as well as social expectations that women and girls will act as primary care-givers for children, the elderly and the sick.

5.Such adverse impacts on human rights are already occurring at 1°C of warming and every additional increase in temperatures will further undermine the realization of rights. The IPCC report makes it clear that to avoid the risk of irreversible and large-scale systemic impacts, urgent and decisive climate action is required.

6.The IPCC report further highlights that adequate action to mitigate climate change would have significant social, environmental and economic benefits. It also warns of the risk of social and environmental damage resulting from poorly designed climate measures, thereby highlighting the importance for human rights norms to be applied at every stage of the decision-making process of climate policies.

7.As emphasized in the Statement of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Climate Change and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2018), human rights mechanisms have an important role to play in ensuring that States avoid taking measures that could accelerate climate change, and that they dedicate the maximum available resources to the adoption of measures aimed at mitigating climate change. It is to be welcomed that national judiciary and human rights institutions are increasingly engaged in ensuring that States comply with their duties under existing human rights instruments to combat climate change.

Agency and Climate Action

8.Women, children and other persons such as persons with disabilities, should not be seen only as victims or in terms of vulnerability. They should be recognised as agents of change and essential partners in the local, national and international efforts to tackle climate change. The Committees emphasise that States must guarantee their human right to participate in climate policy-making, and further, that given the scale and complexity of the climate challenge, States must ensure an inclusive multi-stakeholder approach, which harnesses the ideas, energy and ingenuity of all stakeholders.

9.The Committees welcome international cooperation to tackle climate change under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, as well as the national commitments and contributions made by all individual States to mitigate climate change. We welcome also the mobilisations by civil society and, in particular, by women, children and youth, urging governments to take more ambitious climate action. However, the Committees note with great concern that States’ current commitments under the Paris Agreement are insufficient to limit global warming to 1.5°C and that many States are not on track to meet their commitments. Consequently, States are exposing their populations and future generations to the significant threats to human rights associated with greater temperature increases.

States’ Human Rights Obligations

10.Under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, State parties have obligations, including extra-territorial obligations, to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights of all peoples. Failure to take measures to prevent foreseeable human rights harm caused by climate change, or to regulate activities contributing to such harm, could constitute a violation of States’ human rights obligations.

11.In order for States to comply with their human rights obligations, and to realize the objectives of the Paris Agreement, they must adopt and implement policies aimed at reducing emissions, which reflect the highest possible ambition, foster climate resilience and ensure that public and private investments are consistent with a pathway towards low carbon emissions and climate resilient development.

12.In relation to efforts to reduce emissions, States parties should effectively contribute to phasing out fossils fuels, promoting renewable energy and addressing emissions from the land sector, including by combating deforestation. Additionally, States must regulate private actors, including by holding them accountable for harm they generate both domestically and extraterritorially. States should also discontinue financial incentives or investments in activities and infrastructure which are not consistent with low greenhouse gas emissions pathways, whether undertaken by public or private actors as a mitigation measure to prevent further damage and risk.

13.When reducing emissions and adapting to climate impacts, States must seek to address all forms of discrimination and inequality, including advancing substantive gender equality, protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and of persons with disabilities, and taking into consideration the best interests of the child.

14.Migrant workers and members of their families are forced to migrate because their States of origin cannot ensure the enjoyment of adequate living conditions, due to the increase in hydrometeorological disasters, evacuations of areas at high risk of disasters, environmental degradation and slow-moving disasters, the disappearance of small island states due to rising sea levels, and even the occurrence of conflicts over access to resources. Migration is a normal human adaptation strategy in the face of the effects of climate change and natural disasters, as well as the only option for entire communities and has to be addressed by the United Nations and the States as a new cause of emerging migration and internal displacement.

15.In that regard, States must address the effects of climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters as drivers of migration and ensure that such factors do not hinder the enjoyment of the human rights of migrants and their families. In addition, States should offer complementary protection mechanisms and temporary protection or stay arrangements for migrant workers displaced across international borders in the context of climate change or disasters and who cannot return to their countries.

16.In the design and implementation of climate policies, States must also respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all, including by mandating human rights due diligence and ensuring access to education, awareness raising, environmental information and public participation in decision-making. In particular, States have the responsibility to protect and defend effectively the rights of environmental human rights defenders, including women, indigenous and child environmental defenders.

International Co-operation

17.As part of international assistance and co-operation towards the realization of human rights, high-income States should also support adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries, by facilitating transfers of green technologies, and by contributing to financing climate mitigation and adaptation. In addition, States must co-operate in good faith in the establishment of global responses addressing climate-related loss and damage suffered by the most vulnerable countries, paying particular attention to safeguarding the rights of those who are at particular risk of climate harm and addressing the devastating impact, including on women, children, persons with disabilties and indigenous peoples.

The role of the Committees

18.In their future work, the Committees shall continue to keep under review the impacts of climate change and climate induced disasters on the rights holders protected under their respective treaties and provide guidance to States on how they can meet their obligations under these instruments, in relation to mitigation and adaptation to climate change.