Since the adoption of the first UN Human Rights and Climate Change resolution in 2008, the UN Human Rights Council has made substantial progress in resolutions concerning the links between human rights, the environment and climate change. Its most recent resolution adopted in July 2022 acknowledges and raises awareness of the critical links between action on the climate crisis and upholding human rights. Notably, for the first time, it gives particular attention to the economic and non-economic losses and damages associated with the adverse impacts of climate change. In other words, climate impacts that go beyond the limits of adaptation and that negatively affect sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, and that damage critical infrastructure and property. These impacts may also disrupt supply chains or cause migration, the disappearance of cultures and ways of living.

This resolution emphasizes the importance of continuing to address the adverse consequences of climate change as they relate to all UN States’ human rights obligations. It provides a link between both slow onset impacts and extreme weather events, and states that these adversely affect the full enjoyment of all human rights. In this context, the resolution recognizes the impact of loss and damage on agricultural production, food security, nutrition and, in particular, on vulnerable populations and in developing countries. It encourages Parties to the Paris Agreement to constructively engage in the Glasgow Dialogue ⁠— a two-year dialogue established at the COP26 climate summit ⁠— to discuss funding arrangements for activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage.

Here's what partners from the ACT2025 project had to say about the UN resolution:

Maria Laura Rojas, Executive Director of Transfoma and ACT2025 partner, said: "Science has clearly stated that we are in a global scenario that goes beyond the ‘hard limits of adaptation’, that means that climate-related losses and damages throughout the developing world are and will continue to be a threat to our development, at times to our existence. Addressing loss and damage is an issue of climate justice, of human rights. Thus, we praise the UN General Assembly´s approval of this historic resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change as a clear call to foster immediate, adequate, solidary international cooperation in this important area."

Tony La ViñaAssociate Director for Climate Policy and International Relations, Manila Observatory and ACT2025 partner, said: “We commend the UN General Assembly for releasing its resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change, which recognized, among others, the many issues that we face, including the impacts of climate change on resources security; emphasized the fact that sudden natural disasters and slow-onset events cause significant loss and damage; and expressed concern that developing countries lack resources to implement their adaptation plans and may suffer from higher exposure to extreme weather events. We echo all paragraphs of the Resolution, specifically Paragraph 6 thereof, which recognizes the importance for all countries to avert, minimize, and address loss and damage; looks forward to the operationalization of the Santiago Network; and encourages Parties to constructively engage in the Glasgow Dialogue.

While the language in the Resolution could have been stronger, the Resolution is still a welcome document. As we enter the months leading up to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, we hope that we see concrete and immediate ways forward on critical climate and human rights issues, foremost of which is loss and damage”

Prof. Chuks Okereke, Director, Centre on Climate and Development, AEFUNAI and ACT2025 partner, said: "The resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change approved recently by the UN General Assembly is truly historic and is long overdue. The resolution represents the strongest recognition by the global community, yet that climate change is a human rights issue and consequently that the world has an obligation to protect climate vulnerable countries and communities from the multiple impacts of climate change.

The UNFCCC at COP27 which will be hosted in Africa ⁠— the ground zero of climate impact and vulnerability ⁠— must without delay follow suit in declaring climate change an issue of human rights.  The UN Resolution paves the way for COP27 to recognize climate refugees as a distinctive category of migrants, something the resolutions stops short of doing, and propose tenable accords that will govern their rights, protection and mobility across national borders."

Mark Bynoe, Assistant Executive Director, Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, said: We are encouraged by the United Nations Resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change and applaud the effort of the United Nations and Member States to address these two scourges impacting our planet. Interestingly, both are man-made, thus we clearly have the power within our grasp to reverse course, but it is equally clear, lack the will.  As such, we encourage all nations to continue to advocate for strong, immediate, and continuous interventions that go further than just noting or noting with concerns. We need action, not later but NOW! Anything less is both a dereliction of our collective responsibility and a death sentence to future generations. Both human rights and climate change are unalienated right, let us honor them.”

Ani Dasgupta, President & CEO, World Resources Institute, said:

“We applaud the UN for taking this important step forward in acknowledging climate change as one of the greatest threats to human rights. The resolution comes not a moment too soon. This year, the IPCC revealed that approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people currently live in countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts. Climate change poses serious risk to many fundamental rights, including the right to life, health, food, water and an adequate standard of living. As we see each day with record heat waves, floods and droughts, climate impacts are more widespread and are becoming far worse faster than expected. This is, unfortunately the present-day reality for the world’s most vulnerable, where even the most effective climate adaptation measures cannot prevent all losses and damages.

“We must rally the world to help vulnerable countries adapt faster ⁠— and more equitably ⁠— and respond urgently to devastating losses and damages from climate change. The UN Resolution provides an important framework for more progress on loss and damage at COP27 in Egypt. We can build solutions that center human needs, reduce inequality and garner political consensus, and the UN continues to be a leading voice for this vision for the future.”

Next Steps

In November 2022, global leaders will gather in Egypt at COP27 to continue working on increasing and implementing climate change commitments. The new UN resolution is a welcome development to help spur climate action that is inclusive and respectful of the communities most affected by and most vulnerable to climate change.

Yet, there is still a long way to go. Much more action is needed now to implement countries’ climate change mitigation and adaptation commitments, align financial flows with the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals, and support developing countries in addressing impacts beyond the limits of adaptation. The world will be watching COP27 to see whether developed countries will show solidarity with vulnerable countries. Will developed countries offer more financial support to build resilience and finally help manage the devastating losses and damages that they are experiencing already — and that will worsen in the future?

Download the Resolution 


Image credit: UN Photo/Jess Hoffman