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Recent developments such as the decision to appoint a UN special rapporteur on human rights and climate change are significant milestones in the long-time efforts by international institutions and advocates to recognise and address the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the enjoyment of human rights. UN institutions and international treaty bodies responsible for human rights and environmental matters have over many years taken steps to deal with the serious impacts that climate change has on the rights to life, culture, health, food and an adequate standard of living for individuals and communities across the world. Meanwhile, advocates have initiated proceedings before courts and other complaints bodies claiming that human rights have been violated as a result of climate change. In the process, existing human rights have been repurposed towards environmental ends, and rights to a healthy environment and a safe climate have emerged for international recognition.
This course will introduce and explore the main concepts, laws, institutions and policies at the intersection of international human rights law and international law on climate change. Through an examination of treaties and case law, it will consider how international law and policy is being developed to protect human rights affected by climate change.
Principal topics include:
- The human rights of particular groups – including indigenous peoples, children and displaced people – affected by climate change.
- The different responsibilities of nations and businesses to address the human rights impacts of climate change.
- Key developments in law and policy in UN bodies and treaty institutions dealing respectively with human rights and environmental protection, including existing and emerging human rights such as the right to a healthy environment.
- Critical perspectives on the use of human rights law and procedures to tackle harms arising from greenhouse gas emissions.
- The international movement on rights of nature as part of the context in which international human rights law is evolving to address climate change.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this course will:
- Have a sophisticated understanding of the architecture of the international and regional human rights system, as well as the international climate change regime, within which the human rights implications of climate change impacts can be addressed.
- Have advanced knowledge of the full range of substantive and procedural rights that can be invoked to offer protection against environmental and climate harm.
- Have insight into the philosophical and conceptual limits of human rights, including the autonomous healthy right to the environment, and the extent to which they can be extended to cover a healthy climate.
- Have nuanced appreciation of the potential and limits of international climate change law in protecting the rights of people affected by climate harm.
- Have the technical skills to navigate and interpret a range of international instruments, including UN and treaty resolutions, documents and decisions.
- Have the ability to communicate critical, targeted, insightful, well-researched and original interventions in debates relating to climate change and human rights.
- Have the expertise to marshal facts and evidence in making a convincing argument, in connection with legal complaints concerning climate change and human rights.
Last updated: 31 January 2024