The Human Right to Health and Climate Change: A Legal Perspective
Global Health Law Groningen Research Paper, 2015/1 (Input to Study on "Human Rights to Health and Climate Change" of the UN OHCHR)
30 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2015 Last revised: 22 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 31, 2015
The impacts of climate change on human health are currently accepted by the World Health Organization and the IPCC as "wide-ranging, diverse and overwhelmingly negative". This research paper thoroughly sets out and examines a broad range of obligations deriving from the human right to health framework in the area of climate change, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation, and both relating to health care and health systems as well as "underlying determinants of health", such as "food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment".
Specifically, this paper traces the links between the human right to health and climate change in Three Parts. Part One explores the legal content of the "human right to health", i.e. discusses the main obligations, concepts and tools that make up the human right to health and that help to implement it in practice. These contents derive from a range of legal human rights treaties, including as they have been further interpreted by UN supervisory bodies (notably through General Comment 14 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but also in various Committee’s Concluding Observations or in the work of UN Special Procedures). Part Two of the contribution includes a short analysis of some of the interpretations given to human rights provisions in the context of climate change by UN bodies in practice. It focuses in particular on the ICESCR, the CEDAW and CRC, and the work of the SR on the right to health. Part Three, finally, submits that human rights and climate change discussions do not exist in a legal vacuum. Human rights practioners and scholars have already deeply engaged with related areas, such as "the protection of persons in the event of disasters" and "human rights and the environment" (also: the right to a healthy environment). The principles of legal protection developed in case-law on these topics (may) highly overlap.
All in all, we conclude that the international human right to health framework articulates a range of clear obligations, as related to both "health care" and the "underlying determinants of health", and in respect of mitigation and adaptation. The right to (the highest attainable standard of) health requires States to effectively respect, protect and fulfill this right for all, taking into account the so-called "AAAQ-framework" of protection (i.e: health opportunities should be Available, Accessible, Acceptable and of good Quality for all). Finally, while this study does not deal with responsibilities of private companies as such, the study includes some comments in this respect (e.g. on the Volkswagen-scandal regarding flouting of car emission standards).
Keywords: human rights, human rights law, climate change, right to health, health, international human rights law, ICESCR, CRC, CEDAW, concluding observations, OHCHR, UNFCCC, COP21
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation