Environment @ 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Last updated: 14 Jul 2021
The 47th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC47) took place from 21 June to 14 July 2021 in Geneva and online. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session.
The Council proceedings could be followed live on UN TV. The meeting summary are available on the UN Geneva website.
Human Rights and Climate Change
Climate is high on the agenda of HRC47. The HRC is expected to adopt its annual resolution on human rights and climate change. The OHCHR’s analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change (A/HRC/47/46), requested last year in Resolution 44/7, was presented at this session, and discussed at the Council’s Panel on Climate Change on 30 June.
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 Rapporteur contributed with reports on specific thematic angles within their mandates. However, there is currently no mechanisms to holistically address the interface of climate change and human rights.
Ahead of HRC47
In 2010, an alliance of civil society organizations has called upon the HRC to establish a mandate for a new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change in order to better protect the rights of those on the frontlines of climate impacts. This call was reiterated by the Climate Vulnerable Forum – an alliance of States highly impacted by climate change – at the 2019 Conference of Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in many other contexts by various groups of States and civil society organizations.
In October 2020, the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting called for the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change at the HRC47.
In 2020, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Franciscans International (FI), in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Geneva Office, launched a series of activities to assess how a new UN Special Rapporteur mandated on climate change could effectively support the work of civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations already working on these issues. Based on regional consultations around the world, they published a report highlighting key recommendations for the institutions of the mandate.
The Geneva Dialogues consisted in a series of events to discuss how human rights institutions can better support and enhance climate ambition and human rights-based climate action. A high-level session of the Dialogues took place on 24 March 2021. This session built upon the outcomes of expert workshops on environmental justice, land and indigenous peoples, and climate and opportunities for redress. It provided the opportunity to discuss how specific human rights institutions and processes can effectively contribute to addressing those issues and how to foster synergies between the implementation processes for the Paris Agreement and the mandates of human rights bodies. At this session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, delivered a message emphasizing that “human rights are the key to devising climate policies that are equitable, inclusive and effective”. Read the statement. The final report of the dialogues is now available for download.
In March 2020, the OHCHR published a factsheet on the “Frequently asked questions on human rights and climate change“. This comprehensive guide reviews the impacts of climate change on human rights, the obligations of States on the matter, the role of UN human rights mechanisms, the relevance of the recognition of a right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment, and more key aspects on the connections between human rights and climate change.
The Human Rights Council has contributed to raising awareness of the links between human rights and climate change by successive and targeted clarifications of the ways climate change affects human rights, including through the adoption of a series of resolutions related to climate change and human rights.
Human Rights Council resolutions on human rights and climate change:
- Human Rights Council resolution 44/7 of 16 July 2020
- Human Rights Council resolution 41/21 of 12 July 2019
- Human Rights Council resolution 38/4 of 5 July 2018
- Human Rights Council resolution 35/20 of 22 June 2017
- Human Rights Council resolution 32/33 of 1 July 2016
- Human Rights Council resolution 29/15 of 2 July 2015
- Human Rights Council resolution 26/27 of 27 June 2014
- Human Rights Council resolution 18/22 of 30 September 2011
- Human Rights Council resolution 10/4 of 25 March 2009
- Human Rights Council resolution 7/23 of 28 March 2008
The Permanent Mission of Bangladesh delivered a statement at HRC46, on behalf of 55 states, calling for effective global climate actions in order to promote and protect the human rights of all and calling upon the Council to consider creating a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change.
On 11 March 2021, the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment, and Human Rights – a group of faith-based organizations that gather to reaffirm the responsibility of each faith and spiritual tradition to care for the environment – presented a statement to the HRC46 calling for the establishment a new Special Procedures mandate on Human Rights and Climate Change. The Lutheran World Federation also took position, reaffirming its long-standing commitment to climate justice, support for people and communities affected by climate disasters, and theological work towards eco-theology and care for creation.
In an interview issued mid-June 2021, Franciscans International advocacy director explained why HRC47 must act now and create a mandate for a UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change. Faith-based organizations have joined with human rights groups to call on the United Nations to make human rights and environmental justice more visible in global climate change talks and countries’ climate actions. They are also calling for the UN to create a special rapporteur for climate and human rights.
The European Union will be leading a joint statement at HRC47 on the interdependence between human rights, a healthy environment and combating climate change. Especially in view of upcoming UN Climate Change and Biodiversity Conferences, which are expected to set the global agenda on these issues for the decade to come, we believe it is especially timely and important to stress the need to systematically integrate human rights in the global action to reverse biodiversity loss and combat climate change and reiterate our commitment to adopt ambitious rights-based approaches.
On 21 June, 300+ NGOs and groups called for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on human rights & climate change (close to 500 co-signatories in July 2021).
The Human Rights Council held a panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change, on 30 June 2021.
Germany hosted a side-event with a particular focus on vulnerable groups and systemic discrimination, to explore the state of the UN’s engagement with regard to human-rights-based climate action and identify potential areas for improvement, collective engagement and cooperation, on Tuesday 13 July.
The resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change (A/HRC/47/L.19) was adopted on 14 July by a vote of 46 in favour, none against and 1 abstention.
#HRC47 | Resolution A/HRC/47/L.19 on addressing human rights and #ClimateChange was ADOPTED
▶ https://t.co/rwmuNq6P8c pic.twitter.com/dRoYMI8UgI
— UN Human Rights Council (@UN_HRC) July 14, 2021
The Council emphasized the urgent importance of continuing to address, as they relate to States’ human rights obligations, the adverse consequences of climate change for all, particularly in developing countries and for the people whose situation is most vulnerable to climate change. The Council also decided to incorporate into its annual programme of work, beginning in 2023, sufficient time, at a minimum a panel discussion, to discuss different specific themes on the adverse impacts of climate change on human rights. The Council encouraged the continued discussions among States and relevant stakeholders on the possible creation of a new special procedure addressing the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.
Update by the High Commissioner
The High Commissioner mentioned in her update to HRC47 that extreme poverty, inequalities and injustice are rising. Navigating a clear way out of the complex COVID-19 crisis, and towards an inclusive, green, sustainable and resilient future, will be the work of this generation of world leaders – or their downfall. The Secretary-General’s Call to Action on Human Rights is a blueprint that connects, more closely than ever before, the UN pillars of development, peace and security, and human rights.
The Call to Action provides a key framework for stronger work to address the interlocking impacts of climate change, pollution and nature loss on rights. Together with UNEP and UNDP, OHCHR is leading interagency efforts to advance the human right to a healthy environment by developing UN-wide guidance on protection of environmental human rights defenders; emphasising participation by children and youth in environmental decision-making; and supporting Country Teams and national human rights institutions’ work in these areas.
Following the update:
- Various member states mentioned that they share the concerns of the High Commissioner on the need to also focus on climate change in post-COVID recovery.
- CIEL delivered a statement on behalf of more than ten organizations echoing the open letter endorsed by hundreds of civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, grateful for the High Commissioner’s continued leadership in highlighting the human rights impacts of climate change.
Panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change
The Human Rights Council held a panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change, on 30 June 2021. This panel discussion focused on the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by older persons and best practices and lessons learned in the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons.
The OHCHR’s analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change (A/HRC/47/46), requested last year in Resolution 44/7, was presented at the Panel.
In her opening remarks, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that population ageing and climate change had significant implications for human rights. By the year 2050, it was estimated that humanity would include 1.5 billion people aged 65 and above. And by 2050, if greenhouse gas emissions had not been reduced to net zero, global warming would exceed 1.5° Celsius. Ageism contributed to older persons’ vulnerability to climate change. The COVID-19 crisis had demonstrated how age-related discrimination created and exacerbated the poverty and marginalisation of older people, amplifying human rights risks.
Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said it was incumbent on governments, local governments, and national disaster management agencies to ensure that national strategies for disaster risk reduction and others in development made adequate provision for the inclusion of older persons. Apart from ensuring their protection and safety, there was also a need to recognise the role they could play in building a community’s resilience to disasters. The pandemic must serve as a wake-up call on human rights issues that were likely to become increasingly common as the climate emergency worsened.
Strong joint statements were delivered, among these:
Tenth Anniversary of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
June 2021 marked the tenth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). A Panel discussion on the tenth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights took place on 29 June.
The Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Dante Pesce, delivered a statement. To mark the 10th anniversary, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights launched a new project to further drive and scale up implementation of the UNGPs more widely over the next 10 years.
In its statement, ISHR welcomed the UN Working Group’s recently released Guidance document for using the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for engaging with, safeguarding and ensuring respect for the rights of Human Rights Defenders. Human rights defenders are at the forefront of protecting their communities, the environment and key natural resources that maintain the balance in our planet.
Workshop on the legal aspects of recognizing of the right to environment
This online side-event – co-organized by the Geneva Human Rights Platform with the Permanent Missions of Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland to the UN in Geneva and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Austria, Cabo Verde, Cyprus, Ecuador, Fiji, Germany, Mexico, Monaco, Panama, Portugal, Uruguay, Korea, OHCHR, UNEP, Center for International Environmental Law, Earthjustice, Franciscans International and Universal Rights Group – discussed the legal aspects of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the scope of the right, the legal aspects of a potential resolution, as well as how it would contribute to address the global environmental crisis. The event took place on 7 July.
- 21 June, 11:00 CEST | Human rights update by the High Commissioner
- 30 June, 10:00-12:00 CEST | Panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change.
- 7 July, 14:00-16:00 CEST | Workshop on the legal aspects of recognizing of the right to environment | Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland and Geneva Academy
- 13 July 2021, 17:00 CEST | Human-rights-based climate action – taking stock and ways forward | Germany
- Human rights and climate change | Bangladesh, Chile, Ecuador, Namibia, Nepal, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar and Viet Nam.
- Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change | A/HRC/47/46
- 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council
- Summary of the Organizational Meeting on the 47th session of the Human Rights Council (7 June 2021) | GCHRAGD
- ISHR | HRC47 | Key issues on agenda of June 2021 session
- Update on HRC-47 by the Geneva Centre For Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue
- URG | Inside Track: HRC47
- EU action at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council
- UN Rights Body Should Create New Role on Human Rights and Climate Change | Lucy McKernan & Katharina Rall | Human Rights Watch | 22 June 2021
- UN Human Rights Council shies away from appointing expert on climate | Michelle Langrand | Geneva Solutions | 25 June 2021
- Older people excluded from climate response, says UN | Michelle Langrand | Geneva Solutions | 30 June 2021
- The Marshall Islands ‘fight for survival’ in Geneva | Michelle Langrand | Geneva Solutions | 2 July 2021
- Human Rights Council opens door for climate expert despite resistance | Michelle Langrand | Geneva Solutions | 14 July 2021
Past HRC Sessions
Who to Follow on Twitter
@UN_HRC | UN Human Rights Council
@nazhatskhan | H.E. Amb. Nazhat Shameem Khan,Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office at Geneva, President of the Human Rights Council in 2021
@UNHumanRights | The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)
@mbachelet | United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
@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 HumanRights Watch
@RMIgeneva | Marshland Islands Permanent Mission in Geneva
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition | Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network
@SREnvironment | Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment