What is it about?

The Paris Agreement was the first to link environmental protection to human rights. According to the agreement's terms, states must take steps to protect human rights against environmental harm. This article describes the framework of mandates to protect environmental human rights under legal authority, as well as the obstacles that this entails. The principles of the agreement state explicitly that governments must protect the rights of those most susceptible to environmental harm. In theory, the terms appear acceptable, but the results seem dubious. To begin with, the legislation makes it difficult to define ‘violated human rights as a result of climate change’, because most adversities are long-term rather than immediate. Second, the legal authority associated with current human rights legislation remains ambiguous. It is difficult to determine if the jurisdiction extends to transboundary commitments or solely to one country in question. Another point of contention is the use of ‘conditional obligations’, which rely on the ‘situation’ of the country to determine whether emergency relief can be provided.

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Why is it important?

Taking a look at the commitments that states must make under the banner of ‘environmental human rights’ legislation, it becomes clear that assessment of climate change effects and mobilisation of relief resources remain significant. It is both a national and an international responsibility to take on these duties. It could also be beneficial to inform the general people about the situation and opportunities to participate in carbon-reduction activities. However, participation cannot be forced or skewed. People have the right to criticise or dismiss these efforts, as their right to freedom of expression recognises. In essence, the legislation mandates that countries minimise their emissions in accordance with human rights protection provisions. KEY TAKEAWAY Environmental judicial decisions are now mostly founded on human rights legislation and will be crucial in combating climate change.

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This page is a summary of: Bringing Human Rights to Bear on Climate Change, Climate Law, June 2019, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/18786561-00903002.
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