Climate Change, Human Rights, and Capabilities

24 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2011 Last revised: 18 Nov 2014

See all articles by Alex Feldt

Alex Feldt

University of Oklahoma - Department of Philosophy


Until recently, philosophers had shown little direct engagement with the ethical implications of climate change and when they did it was predominately as an economic matter. However, there has been a push by activists to move beyond mere cost-benefit analyses and economics. One way to do this is by linking climate change with human rights. This is the focal point of my paper. In making my argument, I examine two different human rights approaches: (1) climate change as violating generic environmental rights; and (2) climate change as violating other fundamental basic rights (e.g. health, life, etc.). I conclude that the first approach has trouble identifying the scope of duties and leaves us needing to identify the interests harmed by climate change present in the second. However, the second approach only provides a partial account of the relevant interests. Following this, I spend the remainder of the paper offering an account of human rights and the environment that allows for a more complete account of the fundamental interests involved. In doing this, I turn to the Capabilities Approach. Using the basic foundations of the Capabilities Approach, along with recent work by Breena Holland on integrating the environment into the Capabilities Approach, I show how this account can give a more complete picture for linking climate change to human rights and the duties that result.

Keywords: Climate Change, Human Rights, Environmental Rights, Capabilities Approach

Suggested Citation

Feldt, Alex, Climate Change, Human Rights, and Capabilities. Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

Alex Feldt (Contact Author)

University of Oklahoma - Department of Philosophy ( email )

455 W Lindsey St. Rm 605
Norman, OK 73019
United States

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