Most discussions of a rights-based approach to the environmental crises facing the planet have centered on demanding that governments take action to prevent or mitigate environmental harm that diminishes, for those within their territory and jurisdiction, the enjoyment of internationally-guaranteed human rights. Yet, the consequences of pollution -- especially anthropogenic climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions -- are not confined within the boundaries of a single state: pollution knows no boundaries. Instead, throughout the world, individuals, communities and entire nations face significant threats to their wellbeing and even their lives from climate change and its effects.
A key fact in the human rights dimension of climate change is that anthropogenic climate change has and will continue to have its most devastating impacts on poor and minority communities and countries, on those who are least responsible for creating the problem. These serious consequences already being felt demand consideration of whether governments commit violations of internationally recognized human rights when they fail to control or reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
This paper attempts to assess two potential avenues for pressing rights-based claims, the first being individual or group petitions to international human rights bodies. The second potential proceeding is an inter-state complaint on behalf of the human rights of affected individuals and communities joined to an action to protect national resources and territory.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-57; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2013-57
Dinah Shelton, Litigating a Rights-Based Approach to Climate Change, PROCEEDINGS OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 211 (2009).