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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. UNEP’s mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) is the leading UN entity on human rights. The General Assembly entrusted both the High Commissioner and the Office with a unique mandate to promote and protect all human rights for all people. The United Nations human rights programme aims to ensure that the protection and enjoyment of human rights is a reality in the lives of all people. UN Human Rights also plays a crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of the three interconnected pillars of the United Nations – peace and security, human rights, and development.


Human Rights Enhancing Finance for a more Sustainable, Just, and Prosperous Planet

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk

Protecting the planet requires a transformation in our societies—a reimagination of our economies and our relationship with nature. Total climate financing levels at present fall significantly short of what is required to effectively address both current and future climate change challenges. The Climate Policy Initiative recently found that an increase of at least 590% (1) in annual climate finance is required to meet internationally agreed climate objectives by 2030 and to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. UNEP reported that States may face the need to spend as much as $300 billion annually by 2030 and up to $500 billion annually by 2050 for climate adaptation (2), an amount that is largely inferior to the annual $1.26 trillion (3) currently being spent globally for explicit fossil fuel subsidies (undercharging for supply costs).

We are out of time to discuss how to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. We need to act. A human rights economy offers us a roadmap for transformative change that is holistic, serving both people and planet. It aims at ensuring that economic, industrial and trade policies, investment decisions and business models, as well as consumer protection and choices, are firmly guided by human rights standards. A human rights economy invests in rights, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and dismantles structural and other barriers to equality, justice, sustainable growth, and shared prosperity. It is about ensuring adequate finance for measures against global climate boiling, the extinction crisis, and toxification, thereby mitigating adverse human harms. It is about us today and generations to come in the future.

International cooperation and adequate finance mechanisms are urgently needed effectively to address the triple planetary crisis and advance the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, financing for sustainable development, including climate finance, must prioritize the needs of people, communities and countries that are disproportionately affected by climate change, addressing historical imbalances and systemic inequalities in accessing financial resources in accordance with the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity. This would also ensure that climate finance promotes SDG 10 (reduced Inequalities) and SDG13 (climate change) in parallel.

Integrating human rights principles into environmental finance also enhances accountability, transparency, and meaningful participation, including through human rights impact assessments in decision-making processes. Governments have to be accountable for their commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and accelerate actions to do so. Fossil fuel exploitation is killing life on this planet as we know it – we cannot afford to pay for it now or in the future. I urge all States to commit to the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, a moratorium on new exploration and a fair price on carbon. Together, we can reshape our economies by redirecting these funds toward social welfare and environmentally sustainable technologies and helping to fill the tremendous financing gap that exist for all forms of environmental action.

Investors, public and private have an important role to play. They need to work together to reshape the international financial architecture, prioritizing concessional financing for people and countries that need it and have contributed least to the triple planetary crisis. If a loan is necessary, its terms, including interest rates, must not trap countries in spiralling debt crises. We need to ensure that businesses respect human rights, and shareholders have the information and the [dis]incentives they need to make responsible choices. The era of profit trumping people and planet must end. Progressive taxation, solidarity levies on the fossil fuel sector, a tax on carbon-heavy investment products – these are tools that can advance a human rights economy, support the more equitable distribution of wealth and resources within societies, and send a clear signal that companies are not only responsible for their immediate profits, but also for the broader societal and environmental impacts of their operations. It is overdue to interpret fiduciary responsibility as an obligation to shareholders to maximize return in accord with the rule of law, including human rights law, which demands the long-term sustainability for people and planet. In this global crisis, a human rights economy offers transformative, transparency-based solutions to ensure that human rights are everywhere, in all aspects of our lives, including in our investment decisions, our production and consumption patterns, and in nature and the planet. In doing so, it offers us a path to the future we want – concrete steps to realize that which, so far, we have only dared to dream.

  1. Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2021 December 2021, available at (link)
  2. UNEP, UNEP DTU Partnership, World Adaptation Science Programme (WASP), Adaptation Gap Report 2020, available at (link)
  3. IMF Fossil Fuel Subsidies Data:2023 Update, available at (link)

UNEP FI: Integrating Human Rights and Sustainable Finance for a Better World

Head UNEP Finance Initiative, Eric Usher

In an increasingly interconnected world, human rights have become a central consideration for financial institutions seeking to ensure not only the financial sustainability of their business operations but also the social and environmental sustainability of the communities they serve. As the finance sector increasingly recognizes its role in addressing global challenges such as climate change, the safeguarding of human rights becomes integral to meeting our global sustainability commitments. For the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), the UN human rights framework underpins every aspect of our mission to drive the finance industry towards sustainability.

In an era marked by unprecedented environmental and social crises, UNEP FI strives to make connections between the finance industry and the United Nations to champion sustainable finance endeavors and uphold human rights. We have over 500 members spanning 85 countries, which encompass approximately 45% of global banking assets and around 25% of global insurance premiums. These figures aren't just numbers to us – each member is a valued partner in our global coalition committed to steering finance towards a sustainable future. Through our pioneering work in developing sustainability frameworks, such as the Principles for Responsible Investment (2006), the Principles for Sustainable Insurance (2012), and the Principles for Responsible Banking (2019), UNEP FI has successfully thrust environmental, social and human rights considerations into the financial discourse. UNEP FI has also pioneered ’net-zero finance’, convening groups of financial institutions to work on decarbonising the real economy through their business operations. As the world races against time to fulfil commitments for a net-zero global emissions economy by 2050, the role of the financial industry is unquestionably pivotal.

Our collaborations with our members have already borne tangible results. In the banking sector, 320 banks have signed up to implement the first global sustainability blueprint for banks, the Principles for Responsible Banking – a substantial 50% representation of the global banking sector – starting to show real progress in setting targets towards aligning their business endeavours with the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the past year, UNEP FI has released guidance on aligning bank portfolios with gender equality, financial inclusion, climate, biodiversity and resource efficiency. One of the highlights of the year was the launch of the new Framework for Gender Action for Banks, in partnership with UN Women, which provides additional resources to assist banks in developing gender indicators.

This year we have established the Human Rights Community of Practice (COP) to support our members in the banking and insurance industries with their human rights practices, and to foster a supportive environment for sharing best practices among peers. Notably, we have observed a growing understanding of the importance of human rights among our members, with several of our members making clear commitments to human rights as part of their strategic plans. We have also noticed banks developing human rights policies and statements endorsed at the most senior level of the business. These policies integrate human rights into governance structures, including as part of the key performance indicators (KPIs) and remuneration packages of senior executives. Next year, in partnership with the European Investment Bank, we are releasing a new human rights resource kit to provide more comprehensive guidance for members on aligning themselves with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

Another crucial aspect of the financial sector’s commitment to upholding human rights is through support for a just transition. As industries shift away from carbon-intensive practices and embrace the economic and environmental opportunities of clean energy, it’s vital to consider the material impact of these transitions, not just on their bottom line, but also on the workers and communities affected by these changes. The just transition framework entails the promotion of social safeguards, ensuring fair labour standards, and discontinuing activities that might jeopardize human rights in the face of climate change challenges. As part of our commitment to incorporating just transition principles into our sustainability frameworks, UNEP FI is working with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to release a new Just Transition Guidance for the Financial Sector. The Guidance, to be launched at COP28 this November, will provide banks and insurers with a business case for incorporating a just transition framework into their business operations, as well as case studies and a practical implementation plan to apply these principles across their client portfolios and through their insurance products and services.

Over the past 30 years, UNEP FI's dedication to fostering sustainable finance initiatives, while simultaneously upholding human rights, stands as a testament to the finance industry’s capacity and willingness to become a force for positive change. As global environmental, social, and economic challenges intensify, UNEP FI's mission remains clear – to guide and embolden the financial industry as it works to reshape the world for the better. The journey towards a sustainable future with respect for human rights at its center is not without its challenges, but thanks to UNEP FI's leadership in partnership with our members, it is a journey with a clear destination in sight. We are continually seeking to expand our commitment to human rights and sustainability in collaboration with like-minded organizations, so if you are interested in partnering with or supporting us in our human rights work, or if you are in the financial sector and would like to find out more about getting support for your organization in reaching your human rights and sustainability goals, please reach out to our Social and Human Rights Lead, Joana Pedro, Keep up to date with the latest UNEP FI Social and Human Rights news

Vulnerable Countries Leading Rights-Positive Climate Action

CVF/V20 Secretariat, Global Center on Adaptation: Agripina Jenkins-Rojas- Manager, Avril Chanel and Pauline Seppey- Program Officers

The adverse impacts of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights are widely recognised: rights ranging from the right to life to the right to adequate housing as well as the right to health, food, or water and sanitation, among others, all stand threatened by the rise in global temperatures. This is well known to the members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) – 58 nations most vulnerable to climate change and for whom the 1.5°C goal is a survival threshold. Yet CVF members have the ambition not just to survive, but to thrive, and to pursue strong developmental outcomes even as they tackle looming climate threats. For this reason, they have proposed Climate Prosperity Plans as strategies and investment plans for an alternative development pathway in the context of a climate emergency. This contribution will introduce some strategies pursued by developing countries to mobilise climate action and the role they can play in safeguarding human rights for the world’s most vulnerable nations.

For these countries, climate change is constraining the path to development. Business-as-usual approaches to infrastructure and energy supply now serve to lock in new vulnerabilities down the line, leading to increased climate shocks that are absorbed by the most vulnerable populations – who bear the least responsibility for climate change. Climate-positive development strategies are a way to explore the potential positive development impacts of fast-tracking the energy transition and building resilience across the economy. Vulnerable countries have set ambitious targets for themselves in areas such as energy, transportation, sustainable agriculture, health, infrastructure and coastal protection, and water management. They also present projects, existing or proposed, which would serve to achieve those targets. Macro-economic modelling shows that the achievement of such climate ambitious targets yields positive outcomes for a range of indicators such as GDP, employment creation, emissions reduction, air pollution, and SDG progress. For example, measures proposed in the plan put forward by Sri Lanka are projected to create 300,000 additional green jobs, make energy five times more affordable, and bring the country’s GHG emissions into negative territory in the 2040s.

These strategies not only propose an alternative pathway to development that yields stronger outcomes, they also aim to serve as an investment plan. Indeed, for climate vulnerable countries, access to climate finance remains a key hurdle, leading to development project pipelines that are loaded with climate risk. By focusing on highlighting existing and proposed projects that would put countries on a climate prosperity trajectory, an opportunity is presented to investors to direct their investments towards future-oriented projects and to support the resilience of the most vulnerable. The only viable path to development for climate-vulnerable nations is the one that goes through urgent and ambitious climate action. International finance is necessary for developing countries to realise these visions. By way of illustration, Sri Lanka needs 26.53 billion USD by 2030, whereas Bangladesh estimates its needs at 76.18 billion.

Developing countries’ strategies introduce an alternative approach to conceiving and thinking about climate finance that aims to enhance lives and livelihoods in climate vulnerable countries. By concentrating on resilience-building measures across various critical sectors such as transportation or energy, vulnerable nations directly contribute to the right to development. This right, as recognised by the United Nations, underscores the importance of people's entitlement to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural, and political development. Furthermore, the projects can be instrumental in protecting the right to life. They empower communities to better withstand climate-related disasters, ranging from hurricanes and floods to droughts. The result is a reduction in human vulnerability to harm, with fewer lives lost and enhanced safety.

By fast-tracking energy transition, developing countries safeguard the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. This, in turn, benefits not only the current generation but also future ones, ensuring a more sustainable world. The strategies can also advance the rights to food and water by enhancing the agriculture and sanitation sectors, which in turn can improve the right to health. While not universally recognised, the right to access energy facilitates the fulfilment of numerous other human rights and improves overall quality of life. Climate vulnerable nations play a crucial role in the energy transition by mobilising renewable sources, ensuring access, and thus contributing positively to this right.

However, it is important to acknowledge that certain projects, if they are not implemented with the appropriate safeguards, can present challenges in terms of human rights. For example, they may lead to job opportunities in fields such as renewable energies, but they can also contribute to unemployment in other areas. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 24 million jobs will be created and 6 million lost by achieving sustainability in the energy sector. Managing these displacements effectively and ensuring that affected individuals can access just and quality employment alternatives is critical to uphold the right to work and ensure a just transition. Developing countries’ plans can also involve the construction of climate-resistant homes, thereby reinforcing the right to housing, or, on the contrary, lead to the resettlement of residents when new infrastructures are built. It is therefore crucial that States prioritise community involvement in planning and decision-making processes, thus safeguarding the right to participation. Additionally, the strategies must benefit all groups equitably, to avoid any discrimination. In this way, they are aligned more closely with the principles of human rights and climate justice.

Developing countries have shown powerful approaches to addressing climate change while simultaneously advancing the rights and well-being of populations in vulnerable situations. Comprehensive resilience-building strategies, when thoughtfully implemented, can significantly enhance human rights across various dimensions. The CVF’s “Traffic Light Assessment” report (1) demonstrates that, even at a time of unprecedented climate challenges, the most vulnerable are already doing their fair share. However, major emitters, holding the highest responsibility for GHG emissions and capabilities for taking action, have not aligned their efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C. If we don’t all work together to do our fair share, it will be difficult for any country, especially developing nations, to achieve resilience.

  1. CVF Traffic Light Assessment Report, available at (link)

The Climate Crisis: Human Rights a Solution Hiding in Plain Sight

Chief of Development and Economic and Social Rights Branch, OHCHR, Todd Howland

This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In many ways, its authors, basing their work on morals and ethics found throughout the world in societies and religions were attempting to create a social contract. The goal was to have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights become the ground rules, no matter what economic system, what political system, political party, or ideology. The idea being that the respect for these core principles – regardless of differences – would create a world free from fear and want.

The last paragraph of the preamble of the Declaration reads: “The General Assembly, Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

What is remarkable here is the idea that “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind” would produce a prosperous, inclusive, and peaceful world. The economy – like every part of society - needs to use human rights as useful guardrails to create a Human Rights Economy. The social contract being not only knowing your rights, but also contemplating and understanding how the exercise of your rights may be limited by the rights of others. Certainly, those individuals, companies and governments that pollute and pump out carbon into our atmosphere do not have the rights of others “constantly” in mind. What happened? The answer is complex, but there are three important contributing factors:

  1. Those academics, activists and political party affiliates who thought the best possible result for society would be created by an unfettered market, worked hard to create the conflation of market preference with rights arguing that rights protected one from an overbearing government that should not interfere in the market. This created societies where the imposition of human rights costs of individual and business activity on people and the environment has been considered to be normal and where governments are reticent to regulate activity to protect the rights of those not directly part of a transaction for fear of negatively impacting the economy.
  2. The cold war undermined the idea that human rights were interdependent and included both economic, social, and cultural rights and civil and political rights. This distortion led to a popular misconception of human rights and wrongly associated the origins of economic rights as related to the East or communist bloc, when in fact economic rights predate the cold war and are grounded in multiple religious and traditional norms.
  3. International lawyers and academics were not ready for the approach taken in the Universal Declaration and used their dated ideas to constrict human rights law to law between nations as opposed to what is clearly written in the text. This reinforced a particularly unfortunate understanding that human rights were only about individual rights holders relative to a government duty bearer. The human rights movement is still struggling to free itself from this framing and return it to the social contract, where “every individual and every organ of society, [would act] keeping this Declaration constantly in mind.”

This is particularly evident today, where somehow the idea of a fiduciary duty, that usually means “actions taken in the best interests of another person or entity” has morphed in the corporate world to mean maximizing return on investment despite the impacts upon others. Board Members and companies do not normally think about the human rights costs they are imposing on others unless they worry about possible litigation. The simple change needed to reach our climate change goals is to clarify that the concept of fiduciary duty includes the non-imposition of human rights costs onto others not in the transaction. To treat human rights, like the rights to health, a healthy environment, livelihood, and life, as part of the rule of law to be considered and respected by all corporate boards and investors globally.

Too often economic policies, business, and investment decisions as well as consumer choices are taken in a human rights free zone. These decisions and choices – according to human rights law - should be taken with awareness of and respect for the rights of others. Some people have accumulated enormous wealth and power, at least partially – if not fully, by ignoring the human rights cost they have imposed on others. UN efforts, led by John Ruggie, helped to clarify that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and to remedy harms when they do not. This responsibility applies regardless of whether there are domestic laws requiring them to do so.

Governments have been wrongly slow to impose this by regulation when businesses have not acted, afraid of interfering in the market or unable to take on the power that has been accumulated by corporations and their investors. This responsibility is both upstream in their supply chains and downstream, for example, pricing. For the most part companies do not integrate this due diligence into their fiduciary duties focusing instead on maximizing return on investment. Those affected by climate change created by fossil fuels, do not yet have a viable cause of action in most courts. That does not mean the negative human rights costs are not real. The choice has been to ignore human rights as part of the rule of law that needs to be respected by everyone, as considering the rights of individuals not in the transaction would increase costs. This rightless calculation has led us to the brink of environmental catastrophe.

Some have questioned whether corporations like the 450 entities that are part of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero are acting “anti-democratically” by not following a specific economic school of thought that has many adherents. But this school of thought is not grounded in the rule of law. The question should be whether their plan to move the world to net-zero carbon emissions is in conformity with human rights law. Are they acting fast enough, are they conducting the appropriate level of due diligence using a human rights impact assessment that accounts for their impacts on the climate and our shared environment? Every financial institution, every investment banker, every businessperson, every consumer and every government should make decisions “keeping this Declaration constantly in mind.”

Human rights is a solution hiding in plain sight. As these are legal obligations that already exist and apply to all – meaning they create a level playing field. The widespread misunderstanding of and lack of respect for human rights, can be rectified by creating an economy that enhances - not undermines - the rights of others not in the transaction. While 75 years late, the need has never been greater to finally and fully implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Green Finance: A Just Transition to Protect Indigenous Peoples' Rights

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples-José Francisco Cali Tzay

In recent years, the international finance sector has increasingly invested in programs and initiatives that promote clean energy, environmental sustainability and climate action. The move is important to the survival of our planet as we know it, but it needs to include a strong human dimension. Such investments must not contribute to human rights violations like those that currently plague extractive and other fossil-fuel related projects. As documented by my mandate, such violations disproportionately affect Indigenous Peoples.

I am concerned by increasing reports that green and climate-oriented projects and programs too rarely include protections for the fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Despite representing less than 5 per cent of the world's population, Indigenous peoples steward more than a quarter of Earth's land and seas and protect 80 per cent of global biodiversity. The most biodiverse and best-preserved lands, forests and shores on this planet are those that have been stewarded since ancestral times by Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples’ scientific knowledge is critical to solving the biodiversity loss and climate change crises. Moreover, ensuring their participation in and consultation for projects affecting their lands is not only good policy, it is a legal obligation of States under international law. Business corporations, including financial actors, have similar responsibilities and obligations under international standards and national laws. The rights to lands, territories and resources and the right to self-determination, enshrined in the 2007 UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, constitute the cornerstone of Indigenous Peoples’ physical and cultural survival, and redress for the historic wrongs caused to Indigenous Peoples by centuries of colonization and lingering structural racism. These rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the associated right to free, prior and informed consent, are distinct and cannot be subsumed into processes for other impacted people such as “local communities” whose rights are not defined under international law. Indigenous Peoples have a suis generis legal status and associated rights. These rights seek to rectify the deep power and influence imbalance between States and business enterprises on the one hand, and Indigenous Peoples on the other.

Green financing is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the targets set under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. These targets increase international attention to biodiverse lands and carbon-sinking forests traditionally stewarded by Indigenous Peoples, and are therefore likely to impact their rights. My recent report to the Human Rights Council specifically looks at the impact on Indigenous Peoples of renewable energy, biodiversity protection, and carbon emission reduction programmes like REDD+. For example, Indigenous Peoples are currently concerned at the implications of the Post 2020 Global diversity Framework target 3, which calls for 30% of the earth’s land and sea to be conserved through the establishment of protected areas (PAs) and other area-based conservation measures (OECMs).

Indigenous Peoples are among the most affected by environmental harm. They should not be made to bear the costs of the transition toward new models of sustainable development. In my report, I conclude that financial decision makers have a crucial role in preventing this, by demanding social and environmental safeguards and meaningful protocols to ensure Indigenous Peoples’ participation before approving investments green projects or programs.

Based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the interpretative guidance of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, States, businesses and philanthropic or conservation organizations must exercise human rights due diligence throughout the design, funding and implementation of green projects. Stronger governance and accountability structures are urgently needed to reduce negative impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and to facilitate direct funding to Indigenous Peoples to support their longstanding efforts to protect biodiversity, healthy forests and produce clean energy.

In response to heightened scrutiny, positive practice has emerged in the past decades, particularly by International Development Finance Institutions. The World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and some regional multilateral banks have adopted specific policies on Indigenous Peoples. These institutions still however sometimes lack transparency, proper understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ issues, consistency in implementation, and accountability mechanisms. Multilateral Climate Financing mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility have also integrated international law requirements such as the need to obtain Indigenous Peoples’ free, prior and informed consent prior to the disbursement of funds and implementation of projects. Ensuring direct participation of Indigenous Peoples in the design of projects and in the development of institutional policies remains an issue for many of these institutions.

With increasing funding for green projects from private actors, Indigenous Peoples may have less leverage to stand up for their rights. The private sector often lacks transparency, they may be subjected to less systematic scrutiny, and may not know the international protections for Indigenous Peoples relevant to loan and investment impacts. Similarly, the carbon credit market should be regulated to ensure that credits purchased fully respect Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination.

Financial actors should allocate parts of the project funding to support Indigenous Peoples’ efforts to obtain security of tenure via demarcation and land titling processes. Indigenous Peoples also need to be partners in the design of green projects that may affect them before the funding decision, both to respect their rights and to improve environmental impacts thanks to Indigenous scientific knowledge and protocols that align with nature’s cycles. Furthermore, partnering with Indigenous Peoples from the outset significantly reduces the financial risks if Indigenous Peoples oppose a project. Renewable energy, biodiversity and forest conservation projects should be designed and led by the affected Indigenous Peoples whenever feasible. Funding mechanisms enabling direct access to funding for Indigenous Peoples, reducing intermediaries, are a positive initiative that should be replicated. These allow Indigenous Peoples to maintain full self-determination over their land and territories and in domains where they themselves have internationally recognized expertise.

As I concluded in my report to the Human Rights Council, the shift to green finance is necessary and urgent, and if done using a human rights-based approach it can be a source of opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to obtain funding to preserve their lands, knowledge and distinct ways of life, and to create economic opportunities that may help them to maintain and strengthen their indigenous identity. An Indigenous rights-compliant form of green financing can infuse renewed hope for Indigenous Peoples’ physical and cultural survival, as well as the protection of their life-sustaining resources and the natural environment upon which they depend spiritually.

A Human Rights Approach to Loss and Damage Finance

Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh: Associate Professor of Law at the University of Amsterdam; Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Fiji; Of Counsel at Blue Ocean Law

Around the globe, losses and damages from climate change are becoming increasingly tangible. Land is being swallowed by the sea; loved ones are being killed in climate-related events; and unpredictable weather patterns are resulting in food and water scarcity. These losses and damages range from irreversible impacts, such as the loss of human and animal life, ecosystems and cultural heritage sites, to repairable damage such as infrastructure breakdowns. Such impacts directly infringe upon – and indeed, can violate - a range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, education, culture, self-determination and development. At the same time, responses to loss and damage often have significant human rights implications and, like the impacts themselves, can exacerbate existing inequalities.

The intersection of climate change, loss and damage, and human rights involves a distinct global justice dimension. The impoverished billions who suffer most from climate impacts have done the least to cause them. Conversely, those who have benefited most from fossil fuel exploitation possess the means to adapt and mitigate these impacts, a capacity built largely on the wealth derived from such activities. The challenge of financing loss and damage is central to this justice dilemma. Addressing loss and damage in developing nations alone requires investments between US$200 to US$80 billion annually by 2030, not accounting for non-economic losses. Without adequate financial support, those bearing the brunt of climate change are further marginalized, perpetuating a cycle of vulnerability and poverty.

However, there are glimmers of hope. Prior to the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland and Wallonia pledged dedicated funds for loss and damage in developing countries. Denmark and several other nations followed suit. These commitments paved the way for COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where an in-principle agreement was reached to establish a new Loss and Damage Finance Facility. The concept of funding loss and damage through a grant-based system aligns with the proposals of the Bridgetown Initiative, led by Barbados, which advocates for comprehensive reforms to the international financial system to enable developing countries to build resilience against climate-related shocks. Despite these promising developments and proposals, critical questions about the precise arrangements of the Loss and Damage Finance Facility remain unresolved.

The slow pace of international negotiations in addressing climate justice concerns has given rise to a bottom-up strategy: rights-based climate litigation. This approach leverages human rights to hold governments and corporations accountable for their insufficient efforts to address climate change and its consequences. Such litigation emphasizes the human consequences of climate change, demanding accountability and remedies. In doing so, it has emerged as an important avenue of resistance for those affected first and most by the climate crisis, with a growing number of cases filed by plaintiffs from the Global South, Indigenous communities, and the youth. Of the numerous rights-based climate cases, a growing portion directly addresses loss and damage in the remedies they seek.

A standout initiative in this realm is the Carbon Majors Inquiry of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights. This inquiry was an initiative of survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which devastated the Philippines in 2013. It focused on the world’s largest 47 fossil fuel producers, known as the carbon majors, and their role in violations of the human rights of Filipino people caused by the climate crisis. The Commission decided to conduct an investigation and provided its preliminary findings in 2019. The inquiry culminated in a comprehensive collection of testimonies and evidence regarding the responsibility of fossil fuel companies for climate change and associated loss and damage. The Commission’s final report, released in 2022, recommends that States devise new mechanisms for loss and damage and compensate victims, recognizing the duty of carbon majors to remediate their impacts. The Commission's findings, though not legally binding, set a precedent for addressing responsibility for loss and damage from a human rights perspective, emphasizing potential global prosecution of corporations for climate-related human rights violations.

Another pivotal case is Billy et al v Australia. This case emerged from a communication to the UN Human Rights Committee lodged by Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders, alleging that the State’s inadequate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and assist in climate adaptation violated their rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Of note, it was the first climate case filed before a UN body by inhabitants of low-lying islands. The case produced a significant normative breakthrough. In its views, the Human Rights Committee determined that Australia had infringed upon the islanders' rights, establishing an obligation to provide 'full reparation' to the victims. The Committee also clarified the content of this obligation, stating that it involved, amongst other things: adequate compensation, needs assessments and meaningful consultations, measures necessary to secure the communities’ continued safe existence on their islands, monitoring the effectiveness of these measures, and measures of non-repetition.

In conclusion, the evolving international regime for loss and damage is shaped by a range of developments, including the decisions of courts and human rights bodies. These dual paths to climate action influence each other, with court decisions informing diplomatic discussions and vice versa. By adopting a rights-based perspective, loss and damage are reframed as human rights issues, emphasizing the urgent need to safeguard climate-vulnerable populations and ensure accountability based on non-negotiable standards. The human rights dimension of legal cases also assist in bridging the gap between domestic and international legal systems, fostering integrated legal arguments around redress for loss and damage and facilitating their replication. As the climate crisis intensifies, an unwavering commitment to a rights-based approach, rooted in principles of equity and justice, becomes ever more crucial.

Climate Change and Forced Displacement

Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant High Commissioner for Protection UNHCR- Gillian Triggs

Is there such a thing as a “climate refugee”?

Is there such a thing as a “climate refugee”? Does the UN Refugee Agency have a role to play in responding to displacement related to the impacts of climate change? Let us take an example. In 2021, violence erupted between communities of herders, fishermen and farmers in Northern Cameroon over dwindling water resources as Lake Chad and its tributaries dried up. Hundreds of people were killed or injured, dozens of villages burned to the ground, and tens of thousands fled to safety within Cameroon and to neighbouring Chad. Does this make them “climate refugees”?

Cameroon demonstrates the multiplier effect of climate change on displacement, protection and conflict. Years of conflict can erode coping capacity and for some people, a drought can become the “tipping point” for flight. For others already displaced by conflict, the onset of floods or storms can force them to move again. Environmental deterioration may prompt violent conflicts between communities over diminishing resources or exacerbate existing tensions, which in turn trigger displacement. Most flee to informal settlements, host communities or camps within their home country, but some also move across borders in search of safety. Climate change may also pose an obstacle to people returning, including in instances where rising temperatures in countries of origin make subsistence near impossible.

These trends are supported by figures. In 2022, conflict and disasters intersected as causes of internal displacement in 43 countries. Over two thirds of refugees and asylum-seekers originate from 15 highly climate-vulnerable countries, many of them fleeing to countries that also are extremely climate vulnerable. The legal regime applicable to someone forcibly displaced will vary depending on whether they are displaced within their own country or are a refugee seeking protection across an international border.

But, everyone, everywhere, is entitled to their human rights.

The strength of international law lies in its ability to adapt. The 1951 Convention requires that a refugee is “persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” and cannot receive protection from their own country. The Convention has shown its ability to adapt by recognising that people subject to persecution for their sexual orientation or women and girls who have been forcibly subjected to female genital mutilation or those fleeing criminal gangs can be protected as refugees.

The impact of climate change on displacement poses new questions for the Refugee Convention. Answering the question whether a displaced person can be a climate refugee, is a question for which there is little settled law. The issue is complex and evolving. A helpful way of thinking about the issue is as a continuum. People are forced to leave their homes for a complex combination of reasons. Some fleeing violence and persecution, triggered in part by climate change, and leaving their home country are likely to be refugees. Some may have fled across borders and may not be refugees but might be in vulnerable situations and in need of international protection. By this we mean the right to not be returned to where your life is at risk (principle of non-refoulement) and access to education, health and decent work. Some will have fled across borders and may, or may not be refugees, but need short-term humanitarian support. Finally, some may be migrants, moving for economic and other reasons, who will not meet the legal requirements as a refugee, but who are nonetheless entitled to their human rights.

Let us begin with the first group likely to be refugees. In situations where conflict or violence may be caused or exacerbated by the effects of climate change and disaster, rendering the State unable or unwilling to protect the victims and leaving them at risk of persecution, they may likely be eligible for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention. This group also includes environmental activists persecuted for political views and marginalized or vulnerable groups who experience discrimination in accessing assistance after a disaster. In addition to the Refugee Convention, there are regional refugee instruments in Africa and the Americas under which people affected by climate change and disasters may also be refugees. Specifically, when climate change impacts lead to circumstances “seriously disturbing public order” and compel people to seek refuge across borders, these regional instruments may apply.

The second and more complex group includes displaced populations needing international protection on human rights grounds, specifically the prohibition of return. An example could include displacement forced by sea level rise, especially in the Pacific Islands and Bangladesh. Such populations may be in need of international protection when their right to life is threatened because the sea level rise is affecting their habitable land, livelihoods and access to potable water. In a landmark finding, the UN Human Rights Committee recognised that people fleeing the effects of climate change should not be returned to their country of origin if essential human rights would be at risk.

The third group concerns those people who move across borders needing support, including temporary protection. For example, those displaced by a disaster linked to climate change where assessment of international protection needs is not practicable. A fourth group, that will not attract refugee status, are those who move for economic and other reasons, for example where they need to change their livelihoods due to food insecurity caused by recurring floods or cyclones. As the impact of climate change intensifies, we expect this group to grow significantly.

So, in this evolving legal landscape, what is UNHCR’s role? UNHCR takes the lead where people flee persecution, violence and human rights violations along with the impacts of climate change or disasters. In particular, by supporting hosting states. In addition, UNHCR provides legal guidance to ensure that international protection norms are upheld. For those who do not fall under a specific international protection framework for refugees but are nonetheless entitled to human rights protection, UNHCR advocates with States and other actors, including IOM, for humanitarian and other forms of assistance.

With 530 field offices across the world, UNHCR has experience of the protection needs of people forcibly displaced. This knowledge informs how we adapt and work to mitigate the gravest impacts of climate change and displacement. We know, for example, that the climate crisis is not “gender neutral”, with women and girls suffering disproportionate impacts. As was recently stressed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Child, specific attention is also needed to address the needs of children displaced due to climate change impacts.

As we look to the future, UNHCR hears the calls for law reform to fill protection gaps. In the current political environment, we think reform of the 1951 Convention itself or the negotiation of a protocol is politically unlikely. Meanwhile, a lot can be done to reinforce the application of existing bodies of laws and instruments. Further, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) affirmed by 181 States in 2018 provides a framework for burden and responsibility sharing for refugees and a “whole of society approach” which can generate innovative approaches for addressing the adverse impact of climate change. Similar opportunities could be reinforced for migrants through the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM).

We urge much more work in climate financing, specifically in making it accessible to the communities who need it the most. A concrete solution can be achieved through the meaningful inclusion of displaced populations in climate action policies and plans and their adequate financing. We know that those already displaced are often excluded from large-scale, long-term support and risk further marginalization. For example, investment in green livelihoods and land restoration in the Sahel amounts to billions of dollars but areas hosting people who are forcibly displaced and stateless are often excluded.

Come December 2023, UNHCR hopes that pledging at the Global Refugee Forum can help to enhance the inclusion of refugees in climate action policies and plans and scaling up accessible financing for host countries. So, to return to the original question: is there such a thing as a climate refugee? The answer is yes, in some circumstances. But as we’ve explained, it is complex. In practice, UNHCR does not use the term “climate refugees”, just as we do not use the phrase “war refugees”. The vital question is whether the international community can ensure implementation of refugee and human rights laws to provide effective protection for all those displaced by the climate emergency.

The UDHR at 75

In 2023, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Office. The celebration consists of a preparatory phase and a Human Rights 75 high-level event (11-12 December 2023), which is an opportunity to rejuvenate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, demonstrate how it can meet the needs of our time and advance its promise of freedom, equality and justice for all (see Human Rights 75 Roadmap and Human Rights 75, a year-long initiative for all). It intends to increase knowledge on the universality and indivisibility of human rights, especially among young people, and inspire people to create a movement of shared humanity while empowering them to fight for their rights. During the preparatory phase, OHCHR and UNEP co-organized a Regional Dialogue for Europe and Central Asia on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and are collaborating on a spotlight month during November 2023 on this critical theme. The Human Rights 75 high-level event will include a round table on the Future of Human Rights, Climate, and the Environment, which takes the form of an interactive exchange, including Heads of State and Governments and other distinguished panellists.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution

Following resolution (5/14), entitled ‘End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument’ adopted in March 2022, the Executive Director of UNEP convened an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The purpose of the INC is to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, which could include both binding and voluntary approaches to address the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

During the latter part of 2022, the INC began its work with the intention to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024. The first session of the INC (INC-1) took place in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in 2022 (28 November-2 December 2022). It focused on preparatory procedural matters but also on the objective, scope and structure of the future agreement. Subsequently, the second session (INC-2) took place in Paris, France, in mid-2023 (29 May-2 June 2023). The chairperson was requested to prepare a zero draft of the agreement in preparation for INC-3 and delegations were encouraged to make submissions on elements not discussed during INC-2. The third session (INC-3) took place at the UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, from 13 to 19 November 2023. INC-3 considered the zero draft text of the international legally binding instrument, prepared by the Chair of the INC, with the support of the Secretariat, and available in the six UN languages.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted during the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) following a four-year consultation and negotiation process. The official text of the Kunming-Montreal GBF can be found in the decision 15/4 (adopted by the COP to the convention on biological diversity on 19 December 2022). The Framework, which supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and builds on the Convention’s previous Strategic Plans, establishes an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050.

Among the Framework’s key elements are 4 goals for 2050 and 23 targets for 2030. The implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework is guided by a package of decisions also adopted at COP 15. The package includes a monitoring framework for the GBF, an enhanced mechanism for planning, monitoring, reporting and reviewing implementation, the necessary financial resources for implementation, strategic frameworks for capacity development and technical and scientific cooperation, as well as an agreement on digital sequence information on genetic resources. The introductory part to the agreement (called ‘considerations for implementation’) commits all actors to implementing the framework with a human rights-based approach. The Framework acknowledges the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and calls for the integration of human rights-based approaches and the principle of intergenerational equity in its implementation. It also recognises the challenges and important roles played by women, Indigenous Peoples and Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs). In adopting the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, all Parties committed to setting national targets to implement it, while all other actors have been invited to develop and communicate their own commitments.

Negotiations on a Global Pandemic Instrument and the revision of the International Health Regulations

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the close link between health governance and the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. In addition to the human right to health, the policies and measures adopted to contain the spread of the disease, provide access to medical treatment and, more generally, to manage the socio-economic impact of both the pandemic and the associated lock-down have important implications for human rights in general. In this context, two ongoing processes must be noted.

Member States of the World Health Organization have agreed to a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. A Conceptual Zero Draft (CZD), presented at the third meeting of the International Negotiating Body (NB) in December 2022, served as a “bridge” for reflection between the Working Draft presented at the Second meeting of the INB and the Zero Draft. The Zero Draft was considered at the fourth and fifth meetings of the INB held in February and April 2023, respectively. At the fifth meeting of the INB, the INB Bureau was asked to provide, for consideration of the drafting group, a Bureau’s text. The INB delivered a progress report to the 76th World Health Assembly on 14 April 2023, which was discussed at the fifth meeting of the INB and was of a procedural nature. One prominent issue which connects human, animal and environmental health is the One Health approach. The progress report refers to One Health with regard to its plan to implement the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (see paras 42-44, p. 8-9) but the issue is constantly evolving, with the latest drafts devoting specific provisions to One Health. The INB is expected to submit a draft pandemic accord for consideration by the Seventy-seventh World Health Assembly in 2024.

In parallel, a process agreed on by the World Health Assembly at its meeting in May 2022 is underway to consider potential “targeted” amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) (the “IHR”). The IHRs specifically refer to the need to respect ‘the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons’ in Article 3.1. This work is being conducted through a dedicated Member-State led working group process, the Working Group on Amendments to the IHR (2005), which held its first meeting on 14-15 November 2022. The WGIHR will propose a package of targeted amendments to the IHR for consideration by the Seventy-seventh World Health Assembly in 2024, in accordance with Article 55 of the IHR. The timeline for the WGIHR was agreed at its second meeting in February 2022. The process could lead to a substantial review of the IHRs. In January 2023, sixteen Member States submitted more than 300 proposed amendments (available online)

From UNFCCC COP-27 to COP-28

From 30 November to 12 December 2023, the 28th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as the meetings of the parties of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, will be gathered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Egypt, which had the presidency of COP 27, and the UAE, which holds the incoming COP 28 presidency are convening informal consultations to engage governments at the ministerial, Head-of-Delegation, and technical levels to lay the groundwork for the negotiations.

In a letter to parties of July 2023, the Incoming President, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change), announced that COP 28 will focus on four paradigm shifts:

  • Fast-tracking the energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030.
  • Transforming climate finance, by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance.
  • Putting nature, people, lives, and livelihoods at the heart of climate action.
  • Mobilizing for the most inclusive COP ever. The letter also outlines a three-fold vision to course correct that includes a negotiated outcome, an action agenda, and a call to action.

OHCHR and UNEP will participate in and support the negotiations co-organizing a number of events during COP28, including What human rights at 75 means for climate justice now and Human right to a healthy environment – What next? (see the complete side event schedule here). Two issues of particular relevance for climate change governance and its relationship with human rights concern the ongoing process to set up a fund for loss and damage, which was agreed in COP-27 after difficult negotiations, and the process towards finalizing the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement.

The loss and damage discussion has the potential to help address climate change related violations of human rights around the world, particularly in the most affected countries. The setting up of the fund should be consistent with a human rights-based approach to loss and damage, including in terms of finance mobilization, participation, direct access by particularly affected communities, and the right to effective remedy. OHCHR’s submission on Advancing a human rights-based approach to the operationalization of the fund and new funding arrangements for responding to loss and damage to the 4th meeting of the Transitional Committee on loss and damage addresses many of these issues.

Regarding the stocktake, it is intended as an overall collective assessment of whether climate action is setting the course defined by the Paris Agreement. Each stocktake is a two-year process that happens every five years. The first Global Stocktake takes place at the mid-point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs, including Goal 13 (climate action). OHCHR has advocated for political outcomes of the stocktake to reflect State human rights obligations..

Publication of the IPCC Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the Synthesis Report of its Sixth Assessment Report, summarising its work over the latest assessment cycle. The Summary for policymakers makes several express references to rights-based approaches, the rights of Indigenous Peoples and participatory rights in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation. It specifically notes that ‘adaptation and mitigation actions that prioritise equity, social justice, climate justice, rights-based approaches, and inclusivity, lead to more sustainable outcomes, reduce trade-offs, support transformative change and advance climate-resilient development. Redistributive policies across sectors and regions that shield the poor and vulnerable, social safety nets, equity, inclusion and just transitions, at all scales can enable deeper societal ambitions and resolve trade-offs with sustainable development goals. Attention to equity and broad and meaningful participation of all relevant actors in decision making at all scales can build social trust which builds on equitable sharing of benefits and burdens of mitigation that deepen and widen support for transformative changes’ (C.5.2).

Global and Regional Advisory Proceedings on Climate Change before the ICJ, ITLOS and the IACtHR

The relations between human rights and climate change have been at the center of three pending advisory proceedings initiated between late 2022 and early 2023, both at the global and regional levels. On 29 March 2023, the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted resolution A/77/276, requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the obligations of States with respect to climate change (see Request for Advisory Opinion, 12 April 2023 and ICJ Press Release, 19 April 2023). The resolution was adopted by consensus. This initiative was largely led by the Government of Vanuatu, which worked with other countries to prepare a draft resolution through internal negotiations and several rounds of informal consultations with the wider UN membership. The ICJ developments on the Advisory Opinion can be followed at the ICJ page ‘Obligations of States in respect of Climate Change’. Questions of human rights and environmental protection feature prominently in the request. The UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) submitted to the ICJ a dossier of relevant instruments, including specific input from OHCHR and UNEP on human rights and other relevant matters. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also shared his views on this initiative, highlighting the importance of human rights in the context of climate change.

At its third meeting on 26 August 2022 the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS), in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 2 of the Agreement for the establishment of the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law of 31 October 2021, adopted a decision aimed at requesting an advisory opinion from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (“ITLOS”). COSIS formally requested an advisory opinion of ITLOS on 12 December 2022. In its order 2002/4 of 16 December 2022, the President of ITLOS invited the Commission, some intergovernmental organizations, including the UN and UN entities such as UNEP, and the States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“the Convention” or UNCLOS) to present written statements on the questions submitted by the Commission to the Tribunal for an advisory opinion. UNEP’s written statement is available here. An oral hearing took place in September 2023, in which COSIS as well as numerous States and organizations presented their views. The ITLOS developments on the Advisory Opinion can be followed at the ITLOS page Request for an Advisory Opinion submitted by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (Request for Advisory Opinion submitted to the Tribunal).

On 9 January 9, 2023, Chile and Colombia signed a joint advisory opinion request to be presented before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), aiming to clarify the scope of the state obligations for responding to the climate emergency under the frame of international human rights law. The procedure is pending.

General Comment 26 on the Rights of the Child and Climate Change

General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a special focus on Climate Change

In June 2021, the Committee on the Rights of the Child decided to draft a general comment on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change. From December 2021 to October 2022, the Committee hosted a series of offline and online consultations and workshops with the global community, including specific consultations with children and young people, to inform the General Comment. Information on the inputs received on the first draft (2023) can be found here. In May 2023, the Committee adopted the general comment during its 93rd session. The final version of the text was published some months later. The General Comment offers authoritative guidance on how children’s rights are impacted by the environmental crisis and what States must do to ensure that children live in a clean, green, healthy, and sustainable world. OHCHR and UNEP both supported the development of this General Comment. It was launched globally at the Committee’s 94th session and was launched in Bangkok on 9 November and in Samoa on 17 November.

UN System Common Principles on Future Generations

UN System Common Principles on Future Generations

Environmental degradation, climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification and unsustainable development constitute some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to effectively enjoy all human rights. The protection of the environment for future generations remains therefore a key aspect of the interface between human rights and the environment. In May 2023, a set of UN System Common Principles on Future Generations, developed and approved by High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP), was endorsed by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. The Common Principles were drafted by the Core Group of the HLCP on Duties to the Future, co-led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR). They are an outcome of work on the pillar on Duties to the Future of the HLCP’s strategic narrative. The Common Principles builds upon prior instruments, including the UN Charter itself as well as the adoption in 1997 by UNESCO Member States of the Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations towards Future Generations. One important goal pursued by these principles is to clarify the terminology and agree a set of common standards for use across the UN system. Further information can be found at the Duties to the Future topic page.

Chemicals Cluster

The Bureau of the International Conference on Chemicals Management kept preparatory work for its 5th session ongoing, in spite of delays related to the pandemic. This included: “virtual working groups” focusing on the four components that had been identified by the Co-Chairs for discussion in the intersessional period: targets, indicators, and milestones; governance and mechanisms to support implementation; issues of concern; and financial considerations. The work was informed inter alia by a “compilation of recommendations” from prior intersessional process meetings and the virtual working groups prepared by the SAICM Secretariat in consultation with the Bureau and the intersessional process Co-Chairs. On the issue of finance, the SAICM Secretariat has coordinated the development of a ‘Study on Industry Involvement in the Integrated Approach to Financing the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Regarding mercury, the 15th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant was held in July 2022. The Conference addressed issues such as the linkages between mercury pollution and climate change, and mercury pollution, artisanal and small scale gold mining or the assessment of the effectiveness the Minamata Convention, among others. Mercury has important implications for human rights. On 8 July 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana, published his annual thematic report A/HRC/51/35 focusing on the harms and risks for human rights of the use of mercury in small scale gold mining. Orellana noted that the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining locations often impairs the human rights of miners, their families and communities as well as those of Indigenous People and traditional landowners, who increasingly compromised by mercury contamination of their territories and food sources.

Also in the chemicals cluster, in March 2022, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted resolution 5/8 which lays the ground for the establishment of a science-policy panel focusing on the sound management of chemicals and waste and pollution prevention. To this effect, an Open-ended working group (OEWG) was convened. Its first session entailed two parts, one focusing on operational decisions (6 October 2022) and another (30 January to 3 February 2023) on the scope and functions of the panel envisioned (see Summary report). This work was supported by several documents for the meeting including work reviewing the scope and function of other science-policy bodies in the field of chemicals and wastes. For more information, see the OEWG website and OHCHR’s submission to the OEWG 1.2 on a science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution.

The fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Managements (ICCM-5) took place in Bonn, Germany, from 25 to 29 September 2023, after COVID-19 related postponements. It was preceded by the resumed 4th session of the Intersessional Process which considered the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020 (IP4.3). At ICCM-5, a new “Global Framework on Chemicals (GFC) – For a Planet Free of Harm from Chemicals and Waste” was adopted to guide global chemicals management.

OHCHR was an active participant working with partners to organize a side event and advocating for the integration of human rights in conference outcomes including through a submission on essential elements for a possible ICCM5 High-level Declaration (HLD) on the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. A number of special procedures mechanisms of the Human Rights Council issued a statement emphasizing calling for ICCM5 to integrate human rights law in the beyond 2020 global chemical framework for responsible chemical and waste management.

Global Intergovernmental Meeting on Minerals and Metals (GIMM)

From 7 - 8 September 2023, the Global Intergovernmental Meeting on Minerals and Metals (GIMM) took place in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting gathered representatives from Members States, observer organizations, including UN agencies and other intergovernmental bodies, secretariats of multilateral environment agreements (MEAs), industry, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

There were three thematic panel discussions, respectively, on policies and tools, value chain aspects, and platforms for international cooperation. The OHCHR contributed to these panels highlighting the need to integrate human rights considerations into the draft Co-Chairs’ summary of the meeting and further work. The draft Co–Chairs’ summary of the meeting reflected this input ins several ways, including with respect to: the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; the relevance between GIMM discussions and human rights, social issues, and climate change; metals certification which requires expertise on matters of conflict, security, human rights social issues and criminal activities; the link between tailings and their effects on human rights; and deep sea mining environmental safeguards under the Convention on Biological Diversity (it also noted an International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Resolution on establishing a moratorium). At the closure, Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, UNEP Director, Industry and Economy Division, urged member states to work toward translating the Meeting’s ideas reflected in the Co-chairs summary into concrete language to be reflected in a possible resolution at the sixth meeting of the UN Environment Assembly.

#WikiforHumanRights: Ensuring access to information

UNEP, along with UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, partnered for the third consecutive year with Wikimedia on the #WikiforHumanRights campaign, an initiative to fill knowledge gaps on Wikipedia about topics related to the environment and human rights, and help the public address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. This year’s topic had a focus on toxics and pollution and the launch event took place on 18 April 2023. The panel discussion included speakers from the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the United Nations and civil society. In total, there were more than 40 events organized with over 900 participants. New articles have been published on the website in over 30 languages. These include highlights in Arabic, Igbo, Spanish, and others.


Council of Europe, Reykjavik Declaration (2023)

At the Reykjavik Summit in May 2023, Council of Europe (CoE) Heads of State and Government adopted the Reykjavik Declaration. Of particular note, Appendix V of the Declaration, titled ‘The Council of Europe and the Environment’ emphasized the importance of the link between human rights and environmental protection and, specifically, ‘affirm(ed) that human rights and the environment are intertwined and that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights by present and future generations’. This appendix further noted ‘that the right to a healthy environment is enshrined in various ways in several constitutions of the Council of Europe member States and the increased recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in, inter alia, international instruments, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, legislation and policies’. Notably, the Council of Europe drafting group on human rights and the environment is currently preparing a report of the feasibility and need for a new instrument or instruments in the field of human rights and the environment which should be finalized in June 2024.

OECD, Update of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (2023)

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct (the Guidelines) are recommendations jointly addressed by governments to multinational enterprises to enhance the business contribution to sustainable development and address adverse impacts associated with business activities on people, planet, and society. They were first introduced in 1976 and they cover matters of human rights, environment and labour, among others. They are a key corporate social responsibility instrument as well as an important part of the global effort to ensure that business activities are consistent with human rights. Implementation of the Guidelines is entrusted to the National Contact Points for Responsible Business Conduct (NCPs), established by governments for this purpose.

The 2023 update reflects urgent social, environmental, and technological priorities facing societies and businesses since their last review in 2011. The updated Guidelines were released on 8 June within the context of the 2023 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting. Key updates include, among others, recommendations for enterprises to align with internationally agreed goals on climate change and biodiversity, inclusion of due diligence expectations on the development, financing, sale, licensing, trade and use of technology, including gathering and using data, recommendations on how enterprises are expected to conduct due diligence on impacts and business relationships related to the use of their products and services, and better protection for at-risk persons and groups, including those who raise concerns regarding the conduct of businesses. The updated Guidelines will also serve to support the ambition set out in the Declaration on Promoting and Enabling Responsible Business Conduct in the Global Economy adopted at the 14-15 February 2023 Ministerial meeting on Responsible Business Conduct.

Environmental Rights Framework for ASEAN

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) held its 37th Meeting from 22 to 26 May 2023 in Bali, Indonesia.

The meeting covered:

  • Updates regarding recent developments on human rights in the region, including new laws and regulations at the national level related to human rights, and human rights initiatives by ASEAN Member States as presented by the AICHR Representatives of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • The implementation of AICHR’s Five-Year Work Plan 2021-2025 (FYWP) and annual Priority Programmes/Activities with a focus on business and human rights, the environment and climate change, right to education, rights of persons with disabilities, children’s and women’s rights, disinformation, among others.
  • The adoption of the terms of reference of the ASEAN Environmental Rights Working Group (AER Working Group), which is tasked with the development of a regional framework on environmental rights.

The press release of the AICHR Meeting can be found here. Moreover, the press release of Special Meeting 1/2023 of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), 8-12 July 2023, here. On 21-22 August 2023 the ASEAN Environmental Rights Working Group (AER WG) convened its 1st Meeting. As an outcome of the meeting; ‘the secretariat has been requested to incorporate all feedback received to develop a “zero draft” document’ of the environmental rights framework.

Regional work on Business and Human Rights

The VIII Regional Forum on business and human rights for Latin America and the Caribbean was convened in Santiago de Chile, on 10-12 October. The main theme of this year’s edition of the forum was Human Right to a Healthy Environment (see official website of the event).The focus of this Forum was to connect the business and human rights and environment agenda. Among the topics addressed were the relationship between the Escazú Agreement and the UN Guiding Principles, the development of international instruments from a Latin American perspective, just transition and human rights, the role of the State in regulation, public policy making, oversight and protection of human rights defenders, the relationship between due diligence and access rights in environmental matters in strategic industries (agribusiness, extractive industries and finance), as well as different perspectives on access to redress in judicial and administrative matters and through operational mechanisms of companies.

UNEP and OHCHR also supported the Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum in Asia Pacific which was held from 6-9 June 2023. This included a session on Unlocking the Potential of Women's Leadership for Accelerating the Just Energy Transition. UNEP, UNDP and IUCN co-organized the Corporate Sustainability and Environmental Rights in Asia (CSERA) conference on 4-5 October 2023. The conference brought together over 275 participants of which over 50% where from the private sector and 17% were from civil society. It included sessions on plastic pollution, the role of business in climate action, youth and sustainable consumption, the Global Biodiversity Framework, ESG, and the just energy transition, among others.

Regional Approaches to Public Participation in Environmental Matters

The extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement) took place between 19 and 21 April 2023 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The meeting elected the initial members of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance (Decision II/1) and adopted the Buenos Aires Declaration of 21 April 2023. The latter ‘(u)nderscore(d) … the contribution of the rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters to promoting human rights and sustainable development’.

OHCHR and UNEP supported and participated in the Second Annual Forum on Human Rights Defenders in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean which was held from 26 to 28 September in Panama City, Panama. The Forum addressed the situation of human rights defenders in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, shared experiences and best practices in the promotion, prevention, and protection of environmental defenders, and continued discussions and consultations on an Action Plan to be presented for adoption at the next COP of Escazu Agreement in 2024. Panel discussions at the Forum addressed issues such as the new challenges and risks faced by human rights defenders in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean; lessons and challenges in the implementation of initiatives and mechanisms for the promotion, prevention and protection of the rights of individuals, groups and organizations that defend the environment; the Escazú Agreement as a framework for action: Towards a Regional Action Plan on Human Rights Defenders in Environmental Matters; and national implementation plans and the fulfillment of Article 9 of the Escazú Agreement. More information is available here.

The 3rd Asia-Pacific Environmental Human Rights Defenders Forum took place from 20-21 September 2023 with an additional workshop on Procedural Environmental Rights on Friday, 22 September 2023. The theme of this year’s Forum was ‘Strengthening protection through data collection’. The objectives of the Asia Pacific EHRD Forum are, among others, to serve as a safe space for EHRDs to discuss ongoing challenges and regional trends in the promotion, protection, and realization of environmental rights.

Joint Pacific Climate Change, Migration and Human Security programme

The Joint Programme – ‘Pacific Climate Change Migration and Human Security (PCCMHS) Programme’ is a regional programme that seeks to protect and empower communities adversely affected by climate change and disasters in the Pacific region, focusing specifically on climate change and disaster-related migration, displacement, and planned relocation. The programme is delivered through a partnership between the UN Agencies of International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labour Organization (ILO), OHCHR, and Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The Platform on Disaster Displacement and Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat act as non-UN implementing partners. Further information can be found here.

Summit of the eight Amazon Basin countries

The leaders of the eight Amazon basin countries gathered in Belém, Brazil, on 8-9 August 2023 at the initiative of Brazil to discuss how to further cooperation on issues arising from the management of the Amazon basin. Among the issues discussed where climate change, forest protection, transnational crime and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Two noteworthy outcomes included the adoption of the Belém Declaration, which recognizes that the Amazonian ecosystem is approaching a tipping point, and the United for Our Forests Joint Communiqué, bringing together also the leaders of other countries. The latter instrument expressly recognized ‘the invaluable contribution of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as well as women and youth for the conservation of tropical forests’.

KEY RESOURCES: Global Updates

The UDHR at 75

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution

  • Resolution (5/14): ‘End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument’, 10 May 2022, through which it was convened the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC): first session of the INC (INC-1), Punta del Este, Uruguay, 28 November-2 December 2022; second session (INC-2), Paris, France 29 May-2 June 2023; third session (INC-3), UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 13-19 November 2023).

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework

  • Decision 15/4, Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, 19 December 2022.

Negotiations on a Global Pandemic Instrument and the revision of the International Health Regulations

From COP-27 to COP-28

  • The 2023 UN Climate Change Conference: COP28 website. Additional information: Informal Consultations convened by COP 27 Egyptian Presidency and the Incoming COP 28 Presidency; Letter to parties, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber COP28 President-Designate, UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, dated July 2023.

Publication of the IPCC Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the Synthesis Report of its Sixth Assessment Report, summarising its work over the latest assessment cycle, which includes a Summary for policymakers.

Resources on global and regional advisory proceedings on climate change before the ICJ, ITLOS and the IACtHR

General Comment 26 on the rights of the child and climate change

  • General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change, 22 August 2023, CRC/C/GC/26

UN System Common Principles on Future Generations

Chemicals Cluster

Global Intergovernmental Meeting on Minerals and Metals (GIMM)


Council of Europe, Reykjavik Declaration (2023)

OECD, Update of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (2023)

Human Rights Framework for ASEAN

  • 37th Meeting of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, 22-26 May 2023, here; Press Release of Special Meeting 1/2023 of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), 8-12 July 2023, here

Regional approaches to public participation in environmental matters

Joint Pacific Climate Change, Migration and Human Security programme that OHCHR is working with IOM, ILO and ESCAP

Summit of the eight Amazon Basin countries