The 53rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council took place from 19 June to 14 July 2023. The Council proceedings can be rewatched on UN TV. The meeting summaries are available on the UN Geneva website and the live-updated programme of work on Sched.
Climate Change and Human Rights
Climate change is an existential threat for people and the planet. Its harmful effects undermine the full enjoyment and realization of all human rights, disproportionately affecting those who are already in vulnerable situations. Over the past years, the Human Rights Council took on resolutions and discussions on specific aspects of climate change, while Special Rapporteurs (SR) contributed with reports on specific thematic angles within their mandates.
Providing legal options to protect the human rights of persons displaced across international borders due to climate change
The Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change presented to the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council his report on the human rights implications of climate change displacement including the provision of legal protection for people displaced across international borders (A/HRC/53/34), which is one of the thematic issues identified by the UN Special Rapporteur.
The Special Rapporteur also presented his report on his country visit to Bangladesh (A/HRC/53/34/Add.1), where a number of linkages were made between the issue of climate change loss and damage and the implications for human rights.
In the dialogue and through the report, the Special Rapporteur explored legal actions to provide appropriate human rights protections for people displaced by climate change. This includes people internally displaced within their own country and those that are displaced across international borders as a consequence of climate change.
Some important points from the report and the dialogues include:
- Various terms and definitions — from climate change refugees to climate-displaced persons — have been used to refer to people who have displaced across international borders due to climate change. There is also a lack of international agreement on whether people displaced due to climate change can be considered refugees.
- In 2020, 30.7 million have been displaced due to weather-related events. People displaced across the border due to climate change are known, especially in the media to be “climate refugees” even though they are not recognized officially as such.
- Those displaced face numerous human rights violations, including the risk of trafficking, racial and gender discrimination. Women and children are often more affected by the displacement more than others. Response to increasing international displacement has been a tightening of borders.
- A thorough assessment of persons displaced internationally by climate change has not been done, and the SR notes some reluctance among UN agencies to do so.
- The SR also highlighted certain cases of fear among those displaced to be labeled as displaced due to climate change as they might be refused the status of refugees.
- Consideration of climate change displacement is also deemed important:
The science is very clear that extreme weather events today have a human-induced factor due to climate change. It is not too difficult to identify whether people have originated from areas subject to climate change effects. The World Meteorological Organization, for example, has the Global Climate Observing System, which regularly assesses the status of global climate observations. Many of the processes reviewed in the present report retain the view that displacement due to climate change cannot be differentiated from other causes.
- While there are guidelines, such as the Global Compact, and non-refoulement obligations, the Special Rapporteur is of the view that there is a major omission in the protection of persons displaced across international borders due to climate change. They often fall through the cracks, as far as appropriate legal protection is concerned, once they cross international borders, as international law does not address critical issues, such as the admission, stay and conditions for return of persons displaced across international borders due to climate change.
- One of the recommendations made by the SR is the preparation of a resolution to UNGA of an optional protocol under the Convention on Refugees that would define and outline legal protection for people displaced across international borders due to climate change.
No matter how hard we build resilience of countries to the impact of climate change, it is inevitable now and into the future that this will not be enough. The devastating effects of climate change will continue to force people to be displaced. It is easy to find excuses: it’s too difficult, we don’t have data, countries are not ready to deal with people displaced across international borders.
To this I say: if not now, when? How many people will have to die crossing borders because of climate change before it’s time to act? Tomorrow is too late. Let us take up this challenge now.
— Ian Fry, SR climate change and human rights
- Raising protection gaps for climate-induced displacement at the Human Rights Council | Franciscans International | 13 July 2023
Panel Discussion & Interactive Dialogue | Adverse impact of climate change on the full realization of the right to food for all people
Following resolution HRC/50/L.10/Rev.1, the Annual Panel was convened in HRC53, focusing on the adverse impact of climate change on the full realization of the right to food for all people and ways forward to address the challenges thereto, as well as on best practices and lessons learned, including science-based approaches and local and indigenous knowledge. The panel discussion as well as an interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report on the same topic (Advanced Edited version) took 3 and 4 July 2023. → Read the summary of the annual panel and the interactive dialogue by GCHRAGD.
Highlights | Annual Panel
Highlights | Interactive Dialogue on SG Report
Joint Statement on importance of civil society access to and participation in the Conferences of the Parties to the UNFCCC
The European Union delivered a joint statement, on behalf of 70 States, on the importance of transparent, inclusive, safe and meaningful participation by civil society in international climate discussions, including the upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP28), delivered during the Interactive Dialogue on 3 July.
Protecting Defenders | Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly
Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are those who strive to protect, promote and safeguard a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, as recognized in HRC Resolution 40/11. From the local to the international level, the efforts of EHRDs have provoked responses to the three interlinked environmental crises afflicting our planet – the loss of biodiversity, pollution, and climate change. However, evidence suggests that they remain highly vulnerable and under attack across the globe.
Sustainable development and freedom of expression: Why voice matters
The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, presented her annual report to the Council on “Sustainable development and freedom of expression: why voice matters” (A/HRC/53/25). The report explores the linkages between the right to freedom of expression, including the right to information, and sustainable development, and introduces a paradigm shift in looking at sustainable development through the lens of freedom of expression.
Against a background of rising authoritarianism and shrinking civic space, journalists, environmental activists, trade unionists and human rights defenders are threatened, attacked and killed in many countries. The voices of young people calling for gender equality and social, economic, environmental, and climate justice are crushed. Individuals, communities, and civil society organizations are blocked from effective participation in decision-making processes. Where public participation occurs, often it is uninformed and tokenistic, more performative than participatory.
While recognizing important progress made in normative standards for access to information, the Special Rapporteur highlights that more is needed to ensure that the voices of those most disadvantaged in society are heard. She argues that only when both access to information and the effective participation of youth, Indigenous communities, the media, human rights defenders, civil society actors and others are fulfilled with the promise to leave no one behind be realized, especially in the context of environmental protection.
An interactive dialogue with the independent expert took place on 23 June 2023.
Advancing accountability for serious human rights violations related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément N. Voule, presented his thematic report to be presented at the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council, on advancing accountability for serious human rights violations related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/HRC/53/38).
The lack of accountability for serious human rights violations against activists linked to their association, as well as in the context of peaceful protests, is a worrying persistent pattern across the world. This widespread impunity has created a chilling effect for the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and has emboldened the perpetrators while increasing the repression and suppression of these rights.
According to the Global Analysis 2022 from Frontline Defenders, around 48% of 401 defenders killed were protecting land, environmental, and Indigenous peoples’ rights, while 22% were Indigenous. In response to recent government response to protests, Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders of the Aarhus Convention, also stated in an editorial that the criminalization of environmental defenders is not an adequate response to civil disobedience. He also asks that discussions start taking into account why defenders are using civil disobedience and how authorities need to adapt accordingly.
In this context, the report aims to examine the persistent impunity for attacks and serious human rights violations committed by State and non-State actors in the context of the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
An interactive dialogue with the independent expert took place on 28 June 2023.
Business and Human Rights
Human rights and the environment are intrinsically intertwined. If we are to tackle environmental challenges without leaving anyone behind, the private sector must respect both the environment and environmental rights, and ensure they are not violated in their conduct of business operations and beyond.
Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights
The Council considered various reports of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
The importance of gender equality for a sustainable future has been established in SDG 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. However, it is not a stand-alone objective; rather, gender equality is important for the achievement of other global goals, including those related to environmental challenges and the full realization of human rights.
Exploring the nexus between climate change and violence against women and girls through a human rights lens
In accordance with its resolutions 6/30 and 47/15, the Human Rights Council convened its annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women on 27 June 2022. The discussion was divided into two panels, with the first on “Exploring the nexus between climate change and violence against women and girls through a human rights lens”.
The Council had before it the report of OHCHR on the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women (A/HRC/53/41), which took 30 June 2023.
On the Sidelines of HRC53: Related Activities
Other events and activities related to environment and human rights that took place in Geneva, in the margins of the Human Rights Council, are listed here.
Side Event | Principles of the Human Rights of Future Generations
Future generation rights are at the core of human rights crises.
The Principles were a response to a perceived gap in civil society on what the rights of future generations mean and there is a need to reaffirm these rights. The Principles have been prepared since the international conference at Heidelberg in 2018, where civil society, scholars, organizations started to think about how the rights of future generations would look like. The side event, that was organized by CIEL, FIAN International, GI-ESCR, and World Future Council, and took place on 21 June 2023, presented the Principles on the Human Rights of Future Generations, which was launched in New York on 13 July 2023.
Side Event | What is Habitability? Climate change and human rights
The nexus between climate change and human rights can be bridged through habitability.
This side event to the HRC53 tackles the question “What is Habitability?” as it aims to integrate science, evidence & policymaking to confront such complexities. This side event was organized by the HABITABLE Project. As we face the ongoing effects of climate change, including the loss of habitable spaces, the event underscored the need to put human rights as the core and the backbone of our understanding and action, particularly as habitability becomes a fast-growing issue around the world. The need for clarification in international law of the obligations of states in the context of the climate impacts.
Parallel Event | Killer Heat: The impact of extreme temperatures and climate change on migrant workers in the Gulf | Report Launch
Only human greed can be as deadly as this heat.
In this parallel event to HRC53, the Vital Signs Partnership and the Irish Centre for Human Rights presented the findings and recommendations of a new report examining the impact of climate change on migrant workers in the Gulf. Stressing how those who have lost their livelihoods and who are forced to move due to climate change are much more prone to human rights violations, including trafficking and discrimination, the project reports that “50% of migrant workers’ death in Gulf countries have no explanation.” They also highlighted how climate change will aggravate gulf workers’ health: for example in Abu Dhabi, the number of days where air temperature exceeds 40°C will increase by 51% by 2050 at 1.5°C global heating, and 98% by 2100 at 3°C.
Side Event | Challenges on the Legal Protection of Climate-Induced Displacement: Sharing grassroots’ perspectives
Values and ethics guide action.
This side event to HRC53 organized by the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights, discussed pressing issues on the challenges of providing legal protection to those displaced by climate change, in light of the new report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. Sharing “grassroots perspectives”, the speakers highlighted the importance of the cultural and spiritual dimensions of our response to the climate crisis: not forgetting that faith and spirituality alongside science should be part of our response. They also highlighted the urgency of “relocating with dignity”, noting that conversations on relocation and its preparations have been in discussions since 2009.
Side Event | Informal Briefing on OHCHR-UNEP Collaboration to Advance the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment
This session was an informal briefing on efforts under an OHCHR-UNEP Memorandum of Understanding to advance the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The session highlighted recent developments related to human rights and the environment. → Outcomes and highlights of the side event are available on the event page.
Human Rights and the Environment: Meeting on Activities Related to 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council | Info-sharing Session
25 May 2023 | 9:00 – 10:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room H-307-1 & Online
Geneva Environment Network
5 June 2023 | 10:00 – 18:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
Parallel Event | Advancing Human Rights in Responses to Climate Displacement and Human Mobility: Regional Perspectives
20 June 2023 | 13:15 – 14:45 CEST | Rue de Varambé 1
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung & Climate, Migration and Displacement Platform
20 June 2023 | 16:00 – 17:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
International Service for Human Rights
21 June 2023 | 12:00 – 13:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
CIEL, FIAN International & GIESCR
Virtual Consultations: Enhancing climate change legislation, support for climate change litigation and advancement of the principle of intergenerational justice
22 June 2023 | 8:00 – 9:30 CEST & 17:00 – 18:30 CEST | Online | Zoom
SR Climate Change & CIEL
23 June 2023 | 11:30 – 12:00, 15:00 – 16:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
23 June 2023 | 15:00 – 16:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXI & Online
Philippines, Bangladesh, Viet Nam
26 – 27 June 2023 | 14:00 – 18:00 CEST & 13:00 – 14:00 | International Environment House & Palais des Nations, Room XXV
A Glaring Omission: Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights in the Context of Digital Technologies
26 June 2023 | 16:00 – 17:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
27 June 2023 | 10:30 – 12:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXIV & Online
Philippines, Bangladesh, Viet Nam
Interactive Dialogue with WG on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights
27 June 2023 | 10:00 – 12:00 | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
27 – 28 June 2023 | 16:45 – 18:15 CEST & 10:00 – 10:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
Killer Heat: The impact of extreme temperatures and climate change on migrant workers in the Gulf | Report Launch
27 June 2023 | 17:00 – 18:30 CEST | Hotel President Wilson, Quai Wilson 47
Vital Signs Project, Irish Centre for Human Rights
Challenges on the Legal Protection of Climate-Induced Displacement: Sharing grassroots’ perspectives
28 June 2023 | 13:00 – 14:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV & Online
Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights (GIF)
28 June 2023 | 17:00 CEST | Rue de Varambé 1, 5/F
AIDA, Franciscans International, Amnesty International, Hispanics in Philanthropy, CEJIL
28 June 2023 | 17:00 – 18:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
International Action for Peace & Sustainable Development
30 June 2023 | 17:00 – 18:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXIV & Online
Philippines, Bangladesh, Viet Nam
30 June 2023 | 10:00 – 18:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
3 July 2023 | 10:00 – 12:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
3 – 4 July 2023 | 15:00 – 16:15 & 10:00 – 11:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XX & Online
4 July 2023 | 12:00 – 13:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
ArabEuropean Forum for Dialogue and Human Rights
6 July 2023 | 15:00 – 16:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
Centre europe – tiers monde
6 July 2023 | 15:00 – 16:15 CEST | Sidley Austin Law Firm, Rue du Pré-de-la-Bichette 1
Basel Peace Office
Side Event | Informal Briefing on OHCHR-UNEP Collaboration to Advance the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment
10 July 2023 | 13:30 – 14:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXIV
12 July 2023 | 13:30 – 14:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV
Geneva Academy, Geneva Human Rights Platform
Reports presented at HRC53 relating to the global environmental agenda are listed below. The full list of reports can be consulted on the HRC website.
- A/HRC/53/25 | Sustainable development and freedom of expression: why voice matters | SR on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
- A/HRC/53/34 | Providing legal options to protect the human rights of persons displaced across international borders due to climate change | SR on climate change and human rights
- A/HRC/53/34/Add.1 | Visit to Bangladesh | SR on climate change and human rights
- A/HRC/53/38 | Advancing accountability for serious human rights violations related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association | SR on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
- A/HRC/53/41 | Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women | OHCHR
- A/HRC/53/47 | Adverse impact of climate change on the full realization of the right to food | UN Secretary-General
Resolutions (found on the HRC53 website) relating to the global environmental agenda adopted at this session are listed here.
A summary of actions on the resolutions is provided by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.
- Human rights and climate change | Philippines, Bangladesh, Viet Nam
The resolution, recalling the recognized human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, among others:
- Calls upon States to better promote the human rights of persons in vulnerable situations, their inclusion in risk reduction decision-making and their access to livelihoods,
- Recognizes the link between the adverse impacts of climate change, including on livelihoods, and displacement and migration, and the need for adaptation measures
- Recognizes the importance of the safe and meaningful participation of civil society in climate action,
- Decides that the annual panel discussion to be held at HRC56 shall focus on ensuring livelihood resilience in the context of the risk of loss and damage related to the adverse effects of climate change,
- Requests the Secretary-General to conduct an analytical study on the impact of loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights, exploring equity-based approaches and solutions to addressing the same, to be submitted at HRC57 and to be followed by an interactive dialogue.
- The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights | China
The resolution affirms the commitments to end poverty and hunger so that “human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality in a healthy environment.”
Call for Submissions
The special procedure mandate-holders are independent human rights experts who help advance human rights, by reporting and advancing from a country-specific or thematic perspective, some of which are related to the environment. Calls for submissions are made to help mandate-holders prepare their reports to the Human Rights Council.
Links and Resources
- 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council
- GCHRAGD | Updates on HRC53
- ISHR | HRC53 | Key issues on agenda
- URG | Inside Track: HRC53
- GEN | Human Rights and the Environment
Past HRC Sessions
Environment @ HRC52 | Environment @ HRC51 | Environment @ HRC50 | Environment @ HRC49 | Environment @ HRC48 | Environment @ HRC47 | Environment @ HRC46 | Environment @ HRC45 | Environment @ HRC44 | Environment @ HRC43
Who to Follow on Twitter
@UN_HRC | UN Human Rights Council
@BichlerMarc | H.E. Amb. Marc Bichler, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council in 2023
@mkah | H.E. Amb. Muhammadou M.O Kah, Permanent Representative of the Gambia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council in 2023
@Asim_mv | H.E. Amb. Asim Ahmed, Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council in 2023
@UNHumanRights | The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)
@volker_turk | UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
@NadaNashif | United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
@SREnvironment | David Boyd, SR on human rights & the environment
@SRclimatechange | Ian Fry, SR on human rights & climate change
@SRtoxics | Marcos Orellana, SR on toxics and human rights
@RelatorDd | José Francisco Calí Tzay, SR indigenous peoples
@SRWatSan | Pedro Arrojo Agudo, SR on rights to water and sanitation
@MichaelFakhri | Michael Fakhri | SR on right to food
@ISHRglobal | The International Service for Human Rights
@FranciscansIntl | Franciscans International
@Geneva_Academy | Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
@hrw | Human Rights Watch
@URGthinktank | Universal Rights Group (URG)
@YvesLador | Special Representative of Earthjustice in Geneva
@duycks | Senior Attorney – Climate and Energy Programme at the Center for International Environmental Law
@katha_nina | Katharina Rall, Senior Environment Researcher at Human Rights Watch
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition | Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network