Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern regarding Effects of Climate Change on Human Rights

December 2, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the grave harm climate change poses to the universal enjoyment of human rights. Ahead of the upcoming Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), to be held in Paris December 7-8, the IACHR urges the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to work to ensure that any climate agreement reached there incorporates human rights in a holistic manner.

OAS General Assembly Resolution No. 2429 (XXXVIII-O/08) “Human Rights and Climate Change in the Americas,” approved June 3, 2008, states that economic and social development and environmental protection are interdependent pillars of sustainable development and that poverty eradication is a fundamental goal. It also recognizes that climate change is a shared concern of all humankind, and that its effects have an impact on sustainable development and could have consequences for the full enjoyment of human rights.

Climate change affects human rights in different ways. The consequences of climate change lead to deaths, injuries, and displacement of individuals and communities because of disasters and events such as tropical cyclones, tornadoes, heat waves, and droughts. The Inter-American Commission has received hundreds of cases related to conflicts over land and water and threats to food sovereignty which evidence that climate change is a reality that is affecting the enjoyment of human rights in the region.

The IACHR expresses concern regarding the existing evidence that climate change will increase poverty rates. This would have a particularly severe impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is related to the effects that rising temperatures will have on health and productivity, according to a recent study by the World Bank. Climate change also poses a threat to international stability, which means that conflicts could significantly increase—particularly in Latin America, which is experiencing difficult social and environmental circumstances.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established that the foreseeable consequences of a 2°C temperature increase include the probability of “declining work productivity, increasing morbidity (e.g., dehydration, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion), and mortality from exposure to heat waves. Particularly at risk are agricultural and construction workers as well as children, homeless people, the elderly, and women who have to walk long hours to collect water.” Climate change will exacerbate stress on water resources and aggravate the problem of access to healthy drinking water, which in turn jeopardizes food security: food access, utilization, and price stability.

Climate change will most severely affect the lives of those who are already more vulnerable and whose human rights have been affected, including women, children, rural communities, the elderly, and people living in poverty. In addition, climate change has a special impact on indigenous peoples, whose lands and natural resources come under direct threat. Some individuals and communities will be forced to migrate, and those who do not have the opportunity to do so may end up trapped in situations of environmental risk.

The Commission calls to mind statements of United Nations special mandates. It notes that in the decision adopted at COP16 in Cancún, Mexico, the States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed “that Parties should, in all climate change-related actions, fully respect human rights.” The Commission also notes that the UN Human Rights Council, in a resolution adopted in 2009, observed that climate change-related impacts have a range of implications, both direct and direct, for the effective enjoyment of human rights.

The IACHR also points to a resolution adopted in 2015 by the Human Rights Council, which indicated the importance of facilitating meaningful interaction between the human rights and climate change communities in order to build capacity to deliver responses to climate change. In this regard, the Commission also calls on the OAS Member States that have not yet done so to sign the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action. Through this agreement, many countries have voluntarily committed to facilitating the exchange of good practices and information among experts in human rights and climate change at the national level.

Addressing climate change from a human rights perspective makes it possible to identify the rights that are at serious risk as a result of this problem. It also helps to ensure that responses to climate change are coherent, effective, and receptive to the concerns of those most affected.

The IACHR trusts that the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will reach a new climate change agreement that will enter into effect in 2020. In this regard, the IACHR urges the States Parties to fulfill their historical responsibility to humanity and achieve the level of ambition needed to ensure that the planet does not suffer greater damage from climate change. To ensure that it has a real impact, the new climate accord should make reference to the respect, guarantee, promotion, and fulfillment of human rights, both in the preamble and in the operational part.

The IACHR calls on the OAS Member States to advocate for a human rights perspective to be incorporated into any agreement adopted in the Paris conference. Respecting human rights in the implementation of all actions related to climate change means ensuring that policies and actions will be carried out in a way that is transparent and participatory.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 140/15