UN Photo / Jean-Marc FerrŽ

Climate Justice: A Human-rights Based Approach

UN Photo / Jean-Marc FerrŽ

Climate change is one of biggest challenges for humanity to be tackled over the coming centuries. Climate change and its effects are inextricably linked to complex questions of justice. These—collectively termed climate justice—have in turn been subject to an increasingly broad debate in both the scientific and the policy community. Despite this increase in attention, the ways in which the effects of global warming will impact justice at various levels are still far from clear.

Climate justice remains at the margin of official concern to address climate change. The preamble of the Paris Agreement symbolically incorporated diverse concerns such as rights of vulnerable groups and gender equality. Nonetheless, the legally binding text does not explicitly address these issues.

As part of the Institute’s working paper series, this paper examines state-of-the art research and thinking on the implications of climate change for justice, to clarify the linkages and potential intersections between them, and to identify the key resulting governance challenges facing the international system. This paper explores potential pathways for reform to make multi-level climate governance more fit for purpose, and to better anticipate and address the predicted justice implications of climate change. Specifically, it poses two research questions:

  1. What are the key policy and (multilevel) governance challenges at the intersection of climate change and justice?
  2. How can current policies and governance arrangements (at different levels) be improved to better meet these challenges?

The paper proposes the following policy and governance reform recommendations for advancing climate justice:

  • Looking beyond the state towards a cosmopolitan perspective on climate justice

The global costs for adapting to climate change should not be divided along state boundaries but redistributed fairly between the world’s wealthy (i.e. those capable of contributing) and the poor (i.e. those most heavily affected but least able to contribute). The state should take up an ‘intermediary’ role.

  • Urging the fulfilment of legal obligations to combat climate change

States can no longer hide behind slow international negotiations and an apparent absence of agreements. Existing law spells out legal obligations to reduce emissions. Judges can urge compliance by the state with their existing legal obligations, which can be invoked by civil society to hold their governments accountable when they are not doing enough to mitigate climate change.

  • Recognizing climate change as a form of ecocide

Due to the irreversible impacts of climate change, (future) peaceful enjoyment of the damaged environment becomes substantially diminished. Climate change can be recognized as a form of ecocide. A new norm prohibiting ecocide could send a strong signal of the obligation upon states, corporations and individuals to mitigate climate change.

  • A human rights-based approach to climate justice

A human rights-based approach provides a valuable lens for ensuring that climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are equitable, fair and do not result in human rights violations. The global human rights regime comprising international human rights law, and guiding principles and resolutions, must ensure all stakeholders have access to remedies as well as the right to participate fully in climate change policy making.

  • Strengthening protection for those displaced by the effects of climate change

There is a need for greater clarity regarding the status and protection requirements of those internally displaced by ‘slow onset’ disasters as well as a large protection gap pertaining to environmentally displaced persons who cross international borders. The protection of both can be strengthened by clarifying and expanding normative and organizational frameworks; crafting comprehensive national protection policies; raising awareness of human rights protection; and pioneering more effective approaches for dealing with states that fail to protect their citizens.

  • Formulate institutional design proposals for inclusive and equitable climate governance at multiple levels

The institutional design propositions for inclusive and equitable climate governance, as described in this working paper, capture structural, agency and learning dimensions of the governance challenge. They also provide a strong initial framework to explore key institutional issues in the governance of climate adaptation or mitigation. Context-specific arrangements that take the environment in which local stakeholders have to operate into account are critical. They require a focus on stakeholder participation, effective cooperation, capacity building, joint information production and exchange, dealing with corruption, and providing a positive incentive structure, which stimulates accountability and responsiveness.

  • Multi-level and multi-stakeholder climate governance to advance climate justice

Climate governance needs to include the macro (intergovernmental and international), the meso (regional, national, and sub-national), and the micro levels (municipal, community and individual). It also needs to transcend national frontiers and corporate, industrial and other barriers.

Multilevel governance is required to create the necessary linkages, by means of participation and deliberation, informed by context in order to incorporate political and public support, and verify and accredit activities on the ground. This in turn entails fine-tuning bottom-up learning processes with top-down policy strategies.

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