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Climate Change and Human Rights: Introduction & Background

Developed by Anna Ansari. Updated by Rosemary Campagna

Introduction & Background

While once the validity of science of climate change may have been up for debate, it has become clear that climate change and its effects on the physical landscape of the world are very real and very serious.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s surface air temperature has increased by 1.1˚ farenheit over the past 100 years; the result of such a temperature increase has been multi-fold.  The effects of global warming encompass rising sea levels, melting arctic ice and glaciers, rising ocean temperatures, the increase in frequency and intensity of rainfall and severe weather events, including typhoons, hurricanes, floods and heat waves. The impact of climate change on the physical landscape is real and discernable.  What is not so clear is how climate change and its resulting effects on the earth relate to human rights; this webguide is an attempt to point an interested researcher to primary and secondary sources, and international organizations that are currently implicated in or undertaking research on the relationship between climate change and human rights.

Under the “Primary Sources” tab, a researcher will find key international treaties, declarations and resolutions, cases and statements that relate either to climate change, human rights or climate change and human rights.  The resources included under the “Secondary Sources” tab encompass books and legal periodical literature in addition to reports from international organizations that focus entirely on the relationship between climate change and human rights.  The “International Organizations” tab leads to both United Nations bodies and non-United Nations organizations pertaining to climate change, human rights, and human development.  Also included in the webguide are a section of videos relevant to the topic of climate change and human rights, as well as a Google search bar that lists the most relevant search results for “’climate change’ and ‘human rights.’” At all times, an attempt has been made to point the researcher to the most useful sources, as well as to provide links to either full-text versions of the sources or a website that leads to the full-text source.  Additionally, Bluebook citations have been included when appropriate, but, as with citations from any source, should be double-checked before use.

After a close examination of the materials on this webguide, a researcher should be able to understand the key effects of climate change, to be familiar with the relevant U.N. treaties, resolutions and declarations relating to climate change and human rights, to identify the major organizations focusing on climate change and human rights, to understand the often-legally protected international rights that are being implicated by climate change, and, finally, to realize the challenge for the world that lays ahead—not only in combating climate change though adaptation and mitigation measures, but also, perhaps more importantly, in ensuring that human beings and their rights are protected from the harmful effects of climate change.  As the United Development Programme stresses, climate change is “a human tragedy in the making,” and “allowing that tragedy to evolve…would represent a systematic violation of the human rights of the world’s poor and future generations and a step back from universal values.” (UNDP 2007/2008 Human Development Report.)

Using This Guide

In order to best use this guide, it is suggested that a researcher first visit the main section of each heading tab before visting any pull-down sections, as the main tab is where information about the layout of the section, research tips, RSS feeds, etc. is located.

  • For example, please first visit "Primary Sources" before the pull-down "InternationalTreaties" tab.

Subject Guide

Loreen Peritz
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