The human rights approach to climate change: An overview

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It is often argued that concerns about the equity of a global climate agreement might appropriately be addressed in the language of human rights. The human rights approach has been promoted by a number of international political actors, including the UN Human Rights Council. As such, human rights are instrumentally applied as a solution to what could be called the “justice problem” in climate negotiations. In order to assess the degree to which human rights could be a useful approach to the justice problem with regard to to climate change, four major issues need to be examined. First, there is the distinction between human rights as protection against climate change versus the right to emit greenhouse gases. Both understandings are found in the debate on climate justice, but they are often not made explicit. Second, the “human rights as protection” approach with a focus on (a) right holders, both presently and in the future, needs to be elucidated, as well as (b) the human rights principles that are at stake, and (c) the duties and duty holders involved. Third, the human right to emit greenhouse gases needs to be clarified in the context of subsistence rights and equal per capita emission rights. Finally, there is the question of whether the cosmopolitan conception of human rights is at odds with the goal of ensuring that individuals assume responsibility for their own carbon-dependent lifestyle.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Ethics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)209-225
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


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