There are many ways in which climate change impacts upon a range of human rights. Therefore, it may appear strange that the linkages between human rights and climate change were not widely acknowledged until relatively recently. The first UN Human Rights Council resolution relating to climate change occurred in March 2008, where it acknowledged that climate change, ‘poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world’.
The meaning and understanding of the linkages between human rights and the environment more generally have taken a long time to emerge at national and international levels. Following a key moment at UNCHE in Stockholm in 1972 when it was declared that people have a ‘fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being..’, developments have taken place gradually and often in a fragmented manner.
All the same, through national constitutions and courts, regional human rights treaties and tribunals, declarations of international organisations and through the work of the international community more generally, law and opinion in the field of human rights and the environment have developed year by year. And yet, in spite of the many developments that have taken place, the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment has still not been acknowledged through a globally applicable international treaty or a resolution of the UN General Assembly.
Climate change as a specific environmental issue has gained prominence relatively recently, however, the trajectory of developments in its relationship with human rights has been rapid. In the early 1970s, the international issues that dominated the headlines were issues such as the Vietnam war, famines in different parts of the world, factional wars and violence in newly independent countries and the introduction of early computers. In contrast, the 2000s have seen climate change rise rapidly up international agendas. This is seen through the intensity of attention afforded to it at meetings among national leaders, through the strategies of multinationals to respond to the need to reduce emissions, and through the levels of engagement with the issue by the international community generally. This has meant that work has intensified very rapidly to fully understand the human rights implications of climate change.
That said, there are still many questions that need to be answered. These include questions relating to the ways that climate change impacts upon and intersects with existing human rights, those relating to the ways that human rights as legal mechanisms can be activated to respond to the challenges related to climate change, and questions relating to the level of recognition or the status of the ‘right to a safe climate’ itself.
Between 9-11 June 2021, the School of Law and the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex in conjunction with its partner organisations, will be hosting a symposium that will focus on issues related to the nexus between human rights and climate change. The symposium is grateful to the numerous international experts who have offered to participate.
In particular, it is grateful to Elizabeth Mrema (Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity) and Professor John Knox (former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment) for their participation and support.
The symposium will include talks and panel sessions that focus on different aspects of the intersections between human rights and climate change. They include environmental constitutionalism, biodiversity, dignity, migration, energy provision in developing countries and the rights of a child. The symposium will also include panel sessions that specifically consider Bhutan and the rights of nature.
We extend a warm welcome to you and hope that you will join us.
For further information and details on how to register see: Human Rights and Climate Change Symposium
- Environmental Law Institute (Washington DC)
- University of Bayreuth (Germany)
- University of East Anglia (UK)
- Global Environmental Rights Institute, Dignity Rights Project (USA)
- Widener University Delaware Law School (USA)