In Paris, governments recognized the interconnectivity of climate change and human rights. With a detailed preambular language that specifies that Parties, when taking action to address climate change, have to respect, promote and consider respective human rights obligations, the Paris agreement sets the foundation to make the new sustainable development mechanism accountable to human rights obligations.
Human rights was a very contentious topic at COP21. While some countries, such as the Philippines, Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico clearly underlined the need to have a robust human rights reference in the operative section of the agreement, other Parties objected to this approach. Facing strong opposition, for example from Saudi Arabia and the US, Parties could not agree to integrate human rights language in the core of the agreement, but compromised with a detailed preambular language that specifies that Parties, when taking action to address climate change, have to respect, promote and consider respective human rights obligations.
This also includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.
The preamble strengthens the existing human rights obligations that apply in the context of climate change. The clear request to respect, promote and consider respective human rights obligations is an important step to systematically integrate human rights in the design as well as implementation of future climate actions. In fact, all 195 State Parties to the UNFCCC have ratified at least one of the major United Nations human rights treaties.
The preambular provisions also set the foundation to make the newly established sustainable development mechanism accountable to human rights obligations. Climate action channelled through this mechanism will need to be in line with the respective human rights provisions of the implementing country party. This is crucial given the experience with climate mitigation actions under the UNFCCC. While well intentioned, in some cases they have caused harm to the environment and people—even infringing on rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, housing, and culture, among others.
The Paris agreement recognizes that climate change is a human rights issue and that these must be at the core of any climate action.