Human Rights Responsibility for the Impacts of Climate Change: Revisiting the Assumptions
Oñati Socio-Legal Series
20 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2019 Last revised: 29 Jul 2020
Date Written: September 15, 2019
In a report published in 2009, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that qualifying the effects of climate change as human rights violations posed a series of technical obstacles. More than a decade later, no court has found that the greenhouse gas emissions of a particular actor relate causally to adverse climate change impacts for the purpose of establishing liability, but human rights arguments are increasingly used in climate change litigation. Yet, plaintiffs and petitioners around the world have increasingly relied on human rights to prompt state and corporate actors to complain about harms associated with the impacts of climate change. This litigation has demonstrated that human rights law and institutions often provide the only means available to complain for the harm produced by climate change, and as such, are at the frontline of climate accountability at the international, national and subnational level. This article therefore revisits the assumptions made in 2009 by the OHCHR and suggests that human rights be used as an interim ‘gap-filler’ while other areas of law gear up to satisfactorily redress the harms caused by the impacts of climate change.
Keywords: Human rights; climate litigation; state actors; non-state actors; loss and damage
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