Human rights a 'compass' for climate change policies

Human rights can be a "compass" to guide research and policy development for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, according to a report.

by Katherine Nightingale

Human rights can be a "compass" to guide research and policy development for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, according to a report.

The International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP) says climate change will threaten — directly or indirectly — almost all human rights, including the right to food, health and a livelihood. But they have received little attention on the policy stage so far.


Human rights can be used as thresholds or minimum standards that climate change, or policies to deal with it, must not breach, says their report, released last month (24 June).

"Human rights are a helpful tool for asking who'll be affected by climate change or climate change policies in a particular way, based on a set of well-defined, internationally recognised criteria," says Robert Archer, executive director of ICHRP.

Local level data about the human costs of climate change are lacking in many countries, particularly those where the effects will be greatest, he says.

"On the science side we have a baseline level of data even in poor countries, but on the social side we're starting from zero."

Archer told SciDev.Net that identifying potential human rights impacts will give communities a better chance of gaining funding for adaptation projects. But a great deal of work needs to be done to develop the simple tools required to collect social data and work successfully at a community level, he warns.

Adaptation and mitigation policies that aim to lessen the impact of climate change could also result in human rights infringements, the report says.

"[Programmes] could generate secondary impacts which could harm people and impede human rights. A programme that might globally benefit society might harm the wellbeing of minorities or groups of people living in particular circumstances," says Archer.

For example, climate change mitigation projects will necessarily result in a reallocation of resources as the world depends less on carbon.

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme, proposed at the UN climate conference in Bali last year (see Plans to curb deforestation need more consideration), seeks to reward forest nations for halting deforestation, but the needs of indigenous people who live off the forests also need to be considered.

By ensuring that human rights are considered from the outset, policies will be improved, and "if harm will occur it's foreseen and dealt with so that people's rights and needs are protected", says Archer.

Similarly, to mitigate climate change developing countries will have to start cutting carbon emissions by around 2025 — and some might not have developed sufficiently to provide their people with public goods such as clean water.

The carbon market could also hinder the development of poor countries: "Every carbon credit sold to other countries … will represent a foregone opportunity for carbon-based development at home", the report states.

Link to full report [PDF - 624KB]