Copyright (c) 2009 President and Fellows of Harvard College
Harvard Environmental Law Review
SYMPOSIUM: LINKING HUMAN RIGHTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE UNITED NATIONS
HARVARD ENVIRONMENTAL LAW REVIEW
33 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 477
John H. Knox*
In January 2009, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights ("OHCHR") became the first international human rights body to examine the relationship between climate change and human rights. 1 The OHCHR report reaches several important conclusions: (1) climate change threatens the enjoyment of a broad array of human rights; (2) climate change does not, however, necessarily violate human rights; (3) human rights law nevertheless places duties on states concerning climate change; and (4) those duties include an obligation of international cooperation.
The report is important not only in its own right, but also because it will influence subsequent consideration of the issue by other human rights bodies. Citing the report, the U.N. Human Rights Council has already encouraged its special mandate-holders to address climate change within their specific mandates. 2 It seems likely that the report will also help to spur treaty bodies to take climate change into account as they monitor state compliance with their treaty obligations. 3 It is far less clear whether the consideration of climate change by human rights bodies will affect the negotiation of a new climate agreement.
This Article first describes the impetus for the OHCHR report. The primary actor was the Republic of Maldives, an island state in the Indian Ocean particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In November 2007, the Maldives convened a meeting of small island states, which decided to try to infuse the negotiation of a new climate agreement ...
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