• Contact Info
+32 (0) 2 62 60 72 7
+32 (0) 4 95 12 96 01
31 Rue Wiertz
B-1050 Brusselles Belgium

COP21 Guide #2: Human rights & climate change

Human rights include the access to water, rights to food, to health, to housing, and to a healthy environment, and even the to self-determination and to life. Climate change reduces the availability of water, changing weather patterns reduce the food production and therefore restrict the access to food, more extreme weather patterns can destroy houses, ocean acidification leads to changes in sea life and therefore affects people livelihoods and in some cases forces them to move. The UNFCCC states in Article 2 the aim to “ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”.  Article 3.1 of the convention also recognises the needs of current and future generations.

Since the adoption of the Convention human rights has established itself as an increasingly important aspect within the negotiations. One example is COP 16, where in Decision 1/CP.16 it is pronounced that: “Parties should, in all climate change related actions, fully respect human rights”. Widening our view within the negotiations, human rights related issues such as gender equity, or gender sensitivity, as it is often called in the talks, and the protection of vulnerable groups were on the agenda and ensured several times at last year’s COP.

The current draft text, which is an unofficial working document, is separated into three parts. The first for the general agreement, the second for a COP decision and the third one for content, which could no be allocated to one of the other parts so far. To make human rights legally binding for the agreement, they need to be under the general objective of the agreement i.e. the general agreement. So far, the central paragraphs for human rights are element of the third part of the draft text. This allows two interpretations. The first, a pessimistic assumption that human rights are not part of the negotiations anymore. The second, a more positive assumption that it could not be decided if it should be part of the agreement or the COP decision.

Having human rights as a part of an international legal agreement offers two advantages: first if the signed document is legally binding the protection of human rights is too. For this to happen it needs to be mentioned on the core text of the agreement not in the preamble. Secondly it offers a new channel for much stronger communication urging states to protect human rights and since human rights are connected to future generations – also known as intergenerational equity – it offers a pressure point to push for an ambitious agreement.

If you would like to read more about how human rights and the climate crisis are interconnected, we recommend the article "Human Rights in the Climate Talks" on The Ecospriner.

This articles is part of our COP climate guide. The other articles in this series are:

  1. What is at stake in Paris?
  2. Human rights and climate change
  3. Climate financing
  4. Differentiation
  5. Mitigation
  6. Adaption
  7. Loss and damage

Learn more about the climate negotiations from FYEG's COP report which you can download here.