Human Rights and Climate Change.

Author:Koivurova, Timo
Position:Book review
 
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Human Rights and Climate Change. Edited by Stephen Humphreys. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xx, 348. Index. $99, 59[pounds sterling].

Human Rights and Climate Change: A Review of the International Legal Dimensions. By Siobhan McInerney-Lankford, Mac Darrow, and Lavanya Rajamani. Washington DC: World Bank, 2011. Pp. xii, 145. $20.

Most international lawyers are familiar with the dialogue between environmental protection and human rights. The 1994 Ksentini Report, (1) prepared under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Commission, forcefully argued that all persons have the right to a secure, healthy, and ecologically sound environment. Even if the independent human right to an adequate environment has not been widely endorsed, we have often successfully witnessed it invoked derivatively (to property, health, family and home life, and even the right to life itself) against polluting activities in various international and regional human rights courts and quasi-judicial bodies. The use of international human rights discourse to protect the environment has also become commonplace in national judicial avenues, and literature on the topic is extensive. (2)

Against this backdrop, the passage of time has been necessary to address climate change as a human rights issue. In retrospect, it seems logical for human rights to cover climate change: the thinking underlying the connection between the environment and human rights is premised on the notion that the enjoyment of human rights is fundamentally dependent on the functioning of our ecosystems. As expressed in 1997 by then International Court of Justice Vice-President Christopher Weeramantry in his separate opinion in the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project case, "The protection of the environment is likewise a vital part of contemporary human rights doctrine, for it is a sine qua non for numerous human rights such as the right to health and the right to life itself." (3)

Very recently, scholars, institutions, and even some intergovernmental organizations have begun to pay attention to the relationship between human rights and climate change. Why? We know that the current climate change regime is failing, by any standard, in a situation where the scientific consensus, driven by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), (4) projects catastrophic consequences for humanity. We are thus required to address climate change indirectly using human rights, a body of international law that touches on almost all aspects of human life. Accordingly, in 2005, we witnessed the first human rights petition by the Inuit against the United States at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in which they claimed that the United States, the main greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, had violated various human rights as a result of an irresponsible climate policy. (5) The basis of the Inuit petition linked human rights and climate change by showing that, since the 1960s, their Arctic home region has been warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world, thus depriving them of the right to subsist on their land and practice their culture in sound health, which they had done for centuries. The petition, although rejected by the Commission, has partly driven the first scholarly efforts at tackling the relationship between human rights and climate change.

One of the two books reviewed here, Human Rights and Climate Change (Humphreys volume), is an edited volume by Stephen Humphreys, the former research director of the influential International Council on Human Rights Policy. The product of a meeting organized by the Council in 2007, the Humphreys volume includes chapters by twelve well-known experts, including Humphreys, who participated, as well as an introduction and a conclusion by Humphreys. The other book reviewed here, Human Rights and Climate Change: A Review of the International Legal Dimensions, is a World Bank study, which may be downloaded in its electronic form (6) (World Bank study). It was produced under the direction of Siobhan Mclnerney-Lankford from the World Bank, who worked with Mac Darrow from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Lavanya Rajamani from the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

The two publications are different in style. The World Bank study is a straightforward survey of human rights implications resulting from climate change. In its six substantive chapters, the authors indicate the direction in which the book will proceed: the core issues relate to how the consequences of--and the responses to--climate change may affect the enjoyment of human rights. The authors point out that human rights may be relevant to the design and implementation of effective responses to climate change. The study draws noteworthy conclusions in its final chapter, entitled "Potential Operational Implications & Areas for Further Research."

The Humphreys volume is not as clear in structure. Part I deals generally with "Rights Perspectives on Global Warming," and part II, entitled "Priorities, Risks and Inequities in Global Responses," suggests, by its nonspecific nature, that it and, indeed, the book as a whole are a fairly fragmented set of essays on the relationship between human rights and climate change. Yet, while a more cohesive structure would have been...

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