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Human Rights and Climate Change Policy-Making Essay

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Updated: Jul 2nd, 2020


Climate change has emerged as one of the most important issues affecting the world in the 21st century. This issue has captured the attention of the international community, and there have been numerous calls for action to be taken to deal with the situation. While the issue was a relatively obscure topic in the late 1980s, mostly confined to scientific circles, it has gained prominence, and policymakers recognize that this issue presents a special challenge to future human development. Climate change is caused by the gradual increase in global average temperatures over the years.

While the temperature changes are caused by a number of factors, there is general agreement that human activities that have taken place since the 19th century are the main cause of climate change. A number of undesirable outcomes have been caused by the issue, including an increase in the severity of droughts, desertification, the intensity of floods, incidents of tropical disease, and a decrease in crop yield. These negative impacts deter the global community from achieving its development goals.

For this reason, the international community has engaged in various efforts aimed at addressing this problem. Traditionally, the climate change question has been addressed within an environmental and economic context. However, there has been a recent call for human rights to be integrated into the policymaking process.

Advocates of the inclusion of human rights feel that there is an important link between climate impacts and human rights and as such, integrating the two would promote the formulation of the best policies. This paper will argue that human rights should be integrated within climate change policy-making in order to ensure optimal results and significant participation by the global community..

A Case for Integrating Human Rights with Climate Change Policies

The most compelling reason for the integration of human rights within climate change policy-making is that there exists a strong link between climate change and human rights. Specifically, the climate change phenomenon is likely to impact the enjoyment of human rights by the global community. If allowed to go on unmitigated, it will have multiple adverse social and human impacts. These impacts include the destruction of habitats, reduction in food production, and the spread of diseases.

These impacts directly inhibit the ability of individuals to enjoy their human rights. The impacts of this phenomenon obviously undermine the realization of a wide range of human rights. In some parts of the world, this damage is already evident as climate change problems infringe on the human rights of people. The integration will ensure that policies are formulated in such a way that they address the impacts that this issue has on human rights.

Integrating human rights within climate change policy will help create a sense of urgency and compel nations to work harder towards creating a solution to the problem. As it currently stands, the international community is not addressing the issue with urgency. Instead, the current approach relies heavily on consensus among nations. The current pace and directions of multilateral diplomacy in addressing the problem are frustrating. Nations have failed to reach a consensus, and slow progress has been made in reaching binding agreements to mitigate climate change.

All this has happened in the context of tangible harms being experienced by many countries. Highlighting the link between human rights and climate change is likely to spur nations into action. When the international community is made aware of the consequences of the problem, such as drought, flooding, and the spread of disease, being experienced by some nations, a response is likely to be made. The Human Rights Council will be best placed to compel nations to take rapid actions to deal with the issue by demonstrating how climate change threatens the enjoyment of a wide array of human rights.

Human rights should be integrated with climate change policies since this problem threatens some of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the international human rights law. Specifically, the issue poses a real threat to life for millions of people who are at risk of dying as a direct result of climate change. The inherent right to life is one of the most important rights for individuals all over the world.

This right is protected by the Human Rights Committee, and all nations are keen not to violate it. If human rights were incorporated in the policies, all nations would be required to take action to prevent, mitigate, or remedy life-threatening harms form climate change within their territories. Failure to do this would constitute a violation of the right to life.

It is only by incorporating human rights that assurances can be made that the policies developed will focus on the vulnerable population groups. While climate change is a global phenomenon, its impacts are not felt uniformly among nations and communities. A significant reality is that the adverse impacts of the problem are not borne proportionately by the global population. Instead, those who are already vulnerable are more likely to bear the impacts. Climate change places an undue strain on vulnerable population groups who are likely to suffer the greatest losses due to this issue.

The increase in tropical diseases such as malaria mostly affects the poor in developing countries. The poorer nations also suffer the most as a result of the decrease in crop yield and food security, even as the climate system warms. These vulnerable populations happen to be those least responsible for the problem. If human rights are integrated into climate change policymaking, measures will be taken to ensure that the rights of the vulnerable population’s groups and individuals are considered. The solutions proposed will ensure that the vulnerable groups are not left out; therefore, guaranteeing equitability.

Without including human rights in the climate change discourse, there will be no legal accountability in the process. In the climate change context, human rights laws introduce a measure of legal accountability for the process and outcomes. Since rights imply duties, the international community will be bound to implement the policies formulated since human rights impose a number of obligations on all participating nations.

These obligations are binding on States, and legal action might be taken against parties that violate them. This legal accountability is necessary since many nations have shown a lack of motivation in living up to their international obligations in matters of climate change mitigation. By introducing legal obligations to the issue, nations will be forced to introduce climate policies and measures to ensure that they meet their human rights obligations. Such a move will guarantee that the whole world is taking action to prevent or mitigate climate change.

Incorporating human rights will increase the likelihood of achieving tangible goals and within a specified time frame. By incorporating human rights, the policies developed will have to be anchored in legal terms. In addition to this, human rights effectively introduce the concept of duty into the climate change discourse. These duties are articulated in binding legal obligations, and right-holders and duty-bearers are identified. Since rights require correlative duties, it will be necessary to come up with quantifiable targets. It will, therefore, be possible to align the global climate change targets with international human rights legal obligations. Such a move will increase the pace with which mitigation policies are being adopted and implemented by the global community.

Incorporating human rights will ensure that the climate change policies proposed have the moral and legal justification necessary to ensure their success. Human rights law serves as a source of justifications for some actions taken to mitigate climate change. For policies to be embraced by the international community, strong arguments have to be made in support of the policies.

Without strong arguments to support the expensive policies proposed, most nations are unlikely to participate. Human rights reveal that nations have a duty to provide individuals with certain rights and ensure that, to some extent, protection is offered against forces that might interfere with fundamental freedoms and entitlements. Including these strong justifications in climate change, the policy-making process will foster support by the various participating nations.

Human rights will assist in coming up with universally accepted policies on climate change. As it currently stands, there is no universal consensus on the process that should be taken to mitigate the problem. Various nations have different goals and objectives. This lack of standards and guidance is detrimental to the mitigation efforts since positive results can only be achieved if all nations work in harmony. If human rights are included in policymaking, it will be possible to use human rights accountability mechanisms and standards. The inclusion of human rights increases accountability by creating a focus on the rights and duties of all the participants.

For real policy changes to occur, there has to be political will among the nations involved. Human rights can foster the political will by emphasizing the duty of the international community to cooperate in matters of climate change. Without the commitment of the global community, mitigation measures will not succeed. Human right emphasizes the importance of cooperation for the collective problem and compels the world to view climate change as a global burden. By extorting nations to work together and solve the climate issue, human rights will help promote the quick implantation of solutions on a global scale.

Including human rights in climate change, policy-making will help overcome some of the challenges that have hindered progress in formulating policies. Progress in the climate change issue has been deterred by resource constraints among some countries. Many countries, especially in the developing world, suffer from resource limitations, which make it hard or undesirable to support or implement some climate change policies. If human rights are integrated within climate change policy-making, it will be possible to address these resource limitations and come up with workable solutions.

Specifically, human rights standards and principles can inform trade-offs that can be implemented when coming up with climate change policies. Human rights assist in the making of trade-offs in a number of ways. To begin with, the human rights are grounded in sound legal standards. They are therefore able to provide public justification for the trade-offs made in policy making. The public is likely to accept the compromises made since human rights are based on reasonable and objective evidence and they have a high level of transparency. The final policies would therefore take into consideration the concerns of the poorer nations. This would increase the possibility of widespread adoption and implementation of the policies by the global community.

The primary concern for climate change policy makers is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of climate change. This focus on the environment might lead to an unintended violation of human rights. By incorporating human rights into the policy making process, it is able to ensure that the proposed policies do not violate human rights. It will provide a framework to assess for reasonableness and ensure that adequate risk analysis of violation is undertaken before endorsing any policy. By use of tools such as the Human Rights Impact Assessment, the proposed climate change policies can be examined to identify and measure their effects on human rights. Using such an instrument, it is possible to prevent the negative effects of policies and maximize their positive effects.

Inclusion of human rights is integral to ensure that the human and social dimensions of the climate change question are adequately addressed. Climate change has multiple dimensions including the economic and social aspect. As policy makers meet to decide on the best approach to the issue, one of these dimensions might be given precedence over the others. Specifically, there might be a tendency to focus on the economic dimensions, since this is the indicator that is deemed most important by governments all over the world. Enshrining human rights in the policy making process will ensure that priority is given to the human and social dimensions of climate change.

Inclusion of human rights makes it possible to provide remedial measures for individuals or communities that are affected by particular environmental harm. Human rights consider the social and economic consequences of the proposed response and measures. It then ensures that no ones rights are infringed upon by the policies developed. Inclusion of human rights into climate change policy will make it possible for the member countries to employ human rights laws when seeking redress on climate issues since they will be interpreted within this mature international human rights law.


The climate change issue is of global importance and policy makers all over the world are seeking effective solutions to the problem. As has been demonstrated throughout this paper, there is a strong link between the issue and human rights. Climate change poses a significant challenge to the realization of a wide range of human rights including the right to life, right to adequate food, right to health, right to adequate housing, among others. However, many scholars point to the difficulty of applying human rights law to climate change. These difficulties exist since climate change is a complex issue and in most cases, it is impossible to identify the actors responsible for the negative impacts of the phenomenon at a particular geographic location. This creates a significant limitation of human rights litigation when addressing the topic.

However, a number of the impacts of climate change demonstrate that this is a human rights issue. The lives of people around the world are being affected by the phenomenon and in many cases, climate change leads to the undermining of human rights. It would therefore be advantageous to tackle the climate change problem from a human rights perspective. By aligning climate change and human rights, the global community will be able to make greater progress in mitigating climate change. In addition to this, the policies developed will enjoy the widespread support of the international community.


Climate change is a global environmental problem that threatens the security of the human population. This paper has argued that for the issue to be effectively addressed, it will be important to integrate human rights within policy making. It began by recognizing that climate change has emerged as the most important issue affecting the global community in the 21st century. The paper then noted that traditionally, the issue has been addressed from a social and economic perspective.

However, there has been a growing call for it to be addressed from a human rights perspective. The paper has shown how climate change affects human rights. In most cases, the problem deprives people of their ability to enjoy human rights and in extreme cases leads to loss of life. From the arguments provided in this paper, it is clear that there is something distinct about addressing climate change from a human rights perspective. Using this perspective, the urgency of the matter is increased and a legal accountability is introduced. The support of the global community is also guaranteed once the issue is addressed with human rights in consideration.

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1. IvyPanda. "Human Rights and Climate Change Policy-Making." July 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-rights-and-climate-change-policy-making/.


IvyPanda. "Human Rights and Climate Change Policy-Making." July 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-rights-and-climate-change-policy-making/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Human Rights and Climate Change Policy-Making." July 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-rights-and-climate-change-policy-making/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Human Rights and Climate Change Policy-Making'. 2 July.

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