Climate change and obligations of duty bearers

By Esther Muhozi
On 21 September 2023 at 10:50

Climate change impacts, directly and indirectly, an array of internationally guaranteed human rights. States (duty-bearers) have an affirmative obligation to take effective measures to prevent and redress these climate impacts, and therefore, to mitigate climate change, and to ensure that all human beings (rights-holders) have the necessary capacity to adapt to the climate crisis.

Climate justice requires that climate action is consistent with existing human rights agreements, obligations, standards and principles. Those who have contributed the least to climate change unjustly and disproportionately suffer its harms. They must be meaningful participants in and primary beneficiaries of climate action, and they must have access to effective remedies.

At the half-time point of the 2030 Agenda, the science is clear – the planet is far off track from meeting its climate goals. This undermines global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and ill-health, improve access to clean water and energy and many other aspects of sustainable development, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on track, says the United in Science report, which makes a systematic examination of the impact of climate change and extreme weather on the goals.

It illustrates how weather, climate and water-related sciences can advance aims such as food and water security, clean energy, better health, sustainable oceans and resilient cities.

As per Fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change is caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses. Among other impacts, climate change negatively affects people’s rights to health, housing, water and food.

These negative impacts will increase exponentially according to the degree of climate change that ultimately takes place and will disproportionately affect individuals, groups and peoples in vulnerable situations including, women, children, older persons, indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants, rural workers, persons with disabilities and the poor.

Therefore, states are urged to act to limit anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses (e.g. mitigate climate change), including through regulatory measures, in order to prevent to the greatest extent possible the current and future negative human rights impacts of climate change.

States obligation on climate change

To mitigate climate change and to prevent its negative human rights impact; states have an obligation to respect, protect, fulfill and promote all human rights for all persons without discrimination. Failure to take affirmative measures to prevent human rights harms caused by climate change, including foreseeable long-term harms, breaches this obligation.

States must build adaptive capacities in vulnerable communities, including by recognizing the manner in which factors such as discrimination, and disparities in education and health affect climate vulnerability, and by devoting adequate resources to the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights of all persons, particularly those facing the greatest risks.

To ensure that all persons have the necessary capacity to adapt to climate change; states must ensure that appropriate adaptation measures are taken to protect and fulfill the rights of all persons, particularly those most endangered by the negative impacts of climate change such as those living in vulnerable areas (e.g. small islands, riparian and low-lying coastal zones, arid regions, and the poles).

International cooperation: The UN Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other human rights instruments impose upon States the duty to cooperate to ensure the realization of all human rights. Climate change is a human rights threat with causes and consequences that cross borders; thus, it requires a global response, underpinned by international solidarity. States should share resources, knowledge and technology in order to address climate change.

International assistance for climate change mitigation and adaptation should be additional to existing ODA commitments. Pursuant to relevant human rights principles, climate assistance should be adequate, effective and transparent, it should be administered through participatory, accountable and nondiscriminatory processes, and it should be targeted toward persons, groups, and peoples most in need. States should engage in cooperative efforts to respond to climate-related displacement and migration and to address climate-related conflicts and security risks.

Ensuring equity in climate action: The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and ‘The Future We Want’ all call for the right to development, which is articulated in the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, to be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change calls for states to protect future generations and to take action on climate change ‘on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’.

While climate change affects people everywhere, those who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. the poor, children, and future generations) are those most affected.

Equity in climate action requires that efforts to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change should benefit people in developing countries, indigenous peoples, people in vulnerable situations, and future generations.

According to the Rwanda Meteorology Agency Report, Rwanda has decided to pursue a green growth approach to development. The availability of regional and local scale climate change scenarios is critical for assessing climate change impacts and vulnerability in various socio-economic sectors and developing appropriate adaptation strategies.

Therefore, there is a need for standardized climate projections for Rwanda specific to its different agro-ecological zones and biophysical conditions or for guidance on which external climate information sources to use and how to use them.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change calls for states to protect future generations and to take action on climate change.