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International Developments

UNHRC Creates Climate-change SR Mandate

On 8 October, the Human Rights Council created a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur (SR) on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. The Council decided to appoint the new SR for a period of three years and requested its subsidiary Advisory Committee to conduct a study and to prepare a report, in close cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, on the impact of new technologies for climate protection on the enjoyment of human rights for the Council’s fifty-fourth session (September 2023).


Resolution A/HRC/48/14 set out the new mandateto begin with an annual report to the Human Rights Council, starting from its fiftieth session (June 2022), and to the General Assembly at its seventy-seventh session. 


In the resolution on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, the states recognized that “the impact of climate change, the unsustainable management and use of natural resources, the pollution of air, land and water, the unsound management of chemicals and waste, the resulting loss of biodiversity and the decline in services provided by ecosystems may interfere with the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and that environmental damage can have negative implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of human rights.”


The mandate calls for an intersectional approach and coordination with the Special Rapporteurs on a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, and on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, in addition to any other new mandate holder.


The Council has asked the new mandate holder to:


  • Study and identify how the adverse impacts of climate change, including sudden and slow-onset disasters, affect the full and effective enjoyment of human rights;
  • Make recommendations on how to address and prevent these adverse impacts, particularly in ways to strengthen the integration of human rights concerns in policy making, legislation, and plans addressing climate change;
  • Identify existing challenges, including financial challenges, in states’ efforts and policies to promote and protect human rights while mitigating and adapting to the adverse effects of climate change, and to make recommendations regarding respect for and promotion of human rights, including in the context of the design and implementation of policies, practices, investments and other projects;
  • Synthesize knowledge, including indigenous and local traditional knowledge, and identify good practices, strategies and policies that address how the human rights are integrated in climate change policies;
  • Promote and exchange views on lessons learned and best practices related to the adoption of human rights-based, gender-responsive, age-sensitive, disability-inclusive and risk-informed approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation policies that contribute to the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC, and Sustainable Development Goals 13 and 14;
  • Raise awareness on the human rights impacted by climate change, especially of persons living in developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change, such as least developed countries, small island developing states and landlocked developing states, and encourage increased global cooperation;
  • Seek views and contributions from states and other relevant stakeholders, including international organizations, United Nations institutions, agencies, programs and funds, regional economic commissions, international and regional financial institutions, regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, civil society, children and youth, older persons, indigenous peoples, local communities, women’s rights organizations, organizations of persons with disabilities, peasants’ organizations, and other people working in rural areas, academia, scientific institutions and non-governmental organizations, in the discharge of the mandate through regular dialogue and consultation;
  • Facilitate and contribute to the exchange of technical assistance, capacity building and international cooperation to address the adverse impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights;
  • Conduct country visits and to respond promptly to invitations from states; and
  • Report annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.


The resolution was adopted by a vote of 42 in favor, 1 against and 4 abstentions:


In favor (42): Argentina, Austria, Armenia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany; Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Against (1): Russian Federation.

Abstentions (4): China, Eritrea, India and Japan.


Among the original sponsors and most-avid supporters of the resolution were small island developing states (SIDS) and land-locked countries, namely Marshall Islands, Bahamas, Fiji and Paraguay.


This resolution sends a clear message to the CoP26 at Glasgow in November, where states are expected to finalize the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement, called the ‘Paris Rulebook’, which will determine how governments will implement Article 6. That Article calls for states to develop a voluntary mechanism to account for and trade greenhouse gas reductions, even as the industry-led market develops outside the UN process.


This resolution also gives meaning to the Paris Agreement’s only reference to human rights in the Preamble. While the Agreement’s Preamble and Article 7 recognize the rights and knowledge of indigenous peoples toward achieving remedies to climate change, it was only at CoP24 at Katowice (2018) that the plenary adopted “in its entirety, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of the implementation of the functions of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform involving Indigenous Peoples.” The struggle continues within the CoPs to recognize the human rights dimensions and impacts of climate change, and the corresponding obligations arising from human rights.


Read resolution A/HRC/48/14 [AR]


The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.


Background documents for the 48th HRC session are available here.


Image: HRC during the vote on draft resolution A/HRC/48/L.27 (now A/HRC/48/14). Source: Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE).



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