Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

How are human rights affected by climate change?

Climate change threatens the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights and in the last decade, human rights bodies have recorded a spike in associated human rights violations. Here we consider some of the human rights that are most affected.

Climate change threatens the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights and in the last decade, international, regional and national human rights bodies have recorded a spike in human rights violations associated with climate change. Here we consider some of the human rights that are most affected.

Right to Water and Sanitation

Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect the availability, quality, accessibility, affordability and acceptability of water resources. This is mostly due to factors such as melting snow and ice, reduced rainfall, higher temperatures and sea-level rises. In addition, big corporations are responsible for large-scale environmental damage of water systems that are a life source for communities.

For example, in the Niger Delta farmers are having their livelihoods destroyed by oil spills from poorly maintained pipelines. They have taken court action against Shell but holding large companies accountable for these problems is difficult because of the significant risk of harassment and even threat to the lives of activists and farmers.

Right to Life

There is a clear relationship between climate change and the right to life. Sudden extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, such as extreme heat, wildfires and extreme rainfall from storms, often lead to people losing their lives, with some such weather events resulting in very high death tolls, often exacerbated by factors at the local level that increase the risks to the population.

For example, throughout 2019 and early 2020, over 100 fires spread across several regions of Australia. These extreme fires led to the loss of over 400 lives due to the fires and to smoke inhalation.

Right to Health

According to the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, climate change threatens to undermine the last half-century of gains in development and global health, particularly people living within urban populations.

For example, according to World Health Organisation, air pollution has significantly impacted those living in New Delhi. It is the world’s most polluted city, with over 40% of children suffering from poor or restrictive lungs.

Right to Food

Climate change directly affects food availability. Erratic climate patterns severely impact farming and directly reduce or alter crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture productivity. This also results in loss or changes to biodiversity which impacts the right to food even further.

For example, millions of Zimbabweans have experienced a prolonged drought which has led to significant food insecurity that has impacted an estimated 4.3 million people according to UNICEF.

Right to Housing

Climate change impacts people’s right to adequate housing in different ways. Those living in poverty, without access to adequate housing, are particularly at risk from the impact of climate change. Heavy rainfall, storm surges in coastal areas and sea-level rises, can lead to flooding and landslides which can destroy or severely damage houses.

For example, flooding in September 2020 caused by heavy rains destroyed the homes of over 160,000 people in 17 states of Sudan. This climate disaster disproportionately impacted individuals living in poverty, refugees and internally displaced people living in informal and underserviced settlements.

Rights of the child

Climate change severely undermines the human rights of children and young people both by harming them in the present and by reducing their chances of being able to enjoy their human rights in the future.

For example, in 2010 monsoon rains caused severe flooding in regions of Pakistan. In these regions the rates of mortality in children under the age of 5 were significantly higher than the national average.

Right to a healthy environment

Climate change represents a huge challenge to the enjoyment of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Increasingly courts around the world recognize that a state’s failure to take adequate measures against climate change is a violation of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

For example, in Colombia a group of 25 youth environmental activists sued multiple branches of the Colombian government, Colombian municipalities and corporations for their insufficient actions to stop deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. In 2018, the Colombian Supreme Court sided with the youth activists and ordered the Colombian government to develop an inclusive climate pact and measurable action plans to reduce further deforestation and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Right to self determination

Human rights law recognizes that ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’. An important aspect of this right is for people not to be deprived of their own means of subsistence. The climate crisis poses a threat to the survival of entire peoples.

For example, the rising sea-levels surrounding the island state of Kiribati threaten the right to self-determination of the population of this small island nation. In order to mitigate this human rights violation, the government of Kiribati has been forced to purchase offshore land.

© Amnesty International
This article is from the free online

Championing Change: Human Rights and the Climate Crisis

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now