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States’ Human Rights Obligations of Climate Change (March 2022)

States’ Human Rights Obligations of Climate Change (March 2022)

States’ Human Rights Obligations in the Context of Climate Change: Guidance Provided by the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies (March 2022)


As governments and intergovernmental organizations have recognized, climate change has adverse impacts on a wide range of human rights. Consequently, existing human rights obligations defined under legally binding treaties must inform climate action. These obligations require that climate policies effectively protect the rights of those most affected by the climate crisis. They also require that the design of these policies builds on the principles of non-discrimination and meaningful public participation.

Human rights treaty bodies (HRTBs) — established to monitor the implementation of the United Nations human rights treaties — have a critical role to play in further elaborating on the obligations of States to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights in the context of climate change. During the past decade, these bodies have provided many valuable recommendations to States illustrating the relevance of international human rights obligations in driving ambitious (and just) climate policies.

This Synthesis Note written with the Center for International Environmental Law reviews the outputs adopted by HRTBs in 2020 and 2021 with regard to climate change, complementing our 2019 Synthesis Note, which provided an overview of all relevant HRTBs’ outputs adopted up until that point in time. The HRTBs faced unique circumstances in 2020 and 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic affected their operations and made it extremely challenging for the HRTBs to host in-person sessions. Despite this and the growing priority given to addressing public health matters, the HRTBs continued to address the obligations of States in the context of climate change with increasing frequency, particularly through the State reporting process.

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