Climate Justice

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At the November 2015 biennial in Malta the CFNHRI agreed the Saint Julian's Declaration on Climate Justice, calling for ‘a global response to dealing with the consequences of climate change by ensuring the explicit recognition of human rights in the new Climate Agreement.’

The CFNHRI will build upon the Saint Julian's Declaration through a programme of work that develops expressions of support for positive action by the United Nations, the Commonwealth and its member states, recognising the need to address climate change in order to protect human rights.

The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (Cameroon) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission are the Focal Point for Climate Justice



What is climate justice?


Climate change is the most critical issue we all face for the future of our planet. The adverse effects of climate change are already evident (IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report, 2007). No one is immune to its effects, but some nations are better equipped than others to respond to this global challenge. It is the global nature of climate change that “calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions” (UNFCCC Preamble).

The Mary Robinson Foundation says:

“Climate justice links human rights and development to achieve a human-centered approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly.” (

Climate justice ensures that human rights are protected, and responsibilities fairly distributed, when combating climate change. The clearest recognition of this is that vulnerable people in developing countries with historically low carbon footprints suffer a disproportionate burden of climate change i.e. increased incidence of droughts, flooding, violent weather patterns, desertification, crop failures and diseases spreading into new areas.  Climate justice helps to ensure that the developed countries understand their responsibility to mitigate their own carbon emissions, recognise the right to development and support a low carbon path of development for developing countries as well as support efforts of developing countries to increase their resilience to impacts of climate change.


The human rights impact of climate change


 The link between climate change and human rights is being increasingly felt across the Commonwealth. As Dr Purna Sen, former head of the Human Rights Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat, recently said: “Climate change is not an abstraction, something that stands out there in the future that can be thought about another day.  We know that desertification, rising sea levels, migration and displacement are already compromising livelihoods, the right to food, health and chosen location of too many people.  The challenge remains to have the voices of those most affected heard and taken seriously in the grand international discussions going on around us.”

The Commonwealth’s own Lake Victoria Action Plan, announced in 2007, commits member states to addressing climate change and aims to give voice to vulnerable groups that are disproportionately more likely to experience its negative effects. The International Coordinating Committee of NHRI (ICC) has similarly made climate change and human rights a priority.


The Saint Julian's Declaration on Climate Justice


At the November 2015 biennial in Malta the CFNHRI agreed The Saint Julian Declaration on Climate Justice, calling for ‘a global response to dealing with the consequences of climate change by ensuring the explicit recognition of human rights in the new Climate Agreement.’

Mary Robinson, the seventh President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation stated:

"It is significant that experts from the Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions are demonstrating leadership and commitment to the values of climate justice ahead of the opening of the Paris climate change conference. A successful agreement will be measured by how it protects the people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To achieve this, the agreement will have to uphold the principles of the Convention and the normative framework of the United Nations including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; so the recognition of the relationship between human rights and climate change by experts via the St. Julian Declaration is very welcome."




The Principles of Climate Justice were developed and adopted by the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation, are as follows:


Respect and Protect Human Rights

The international rights framework provides a reservoir for the supply of legal imperatives with which to frame morally appropriate responses to climate change, rooted in equality and justice

The idea of human rights point societies towards internationally agreed values around which common action can be negotiated and then acted upon. Human rights yardsticks deliver valuable minimal thresholds, legally defined, about which there is widespread consensus. The guarantee of basic rights rooted in respect for the dignity of the person which is at the core of this approach makes it an indispensable foundation for action on climate justice.


Support the right to development

The vast gulf in resources between rich and poor, evident in the gap between countries in the North and South and also within many countries (both North and South) is the deepest injustice of our age. The failure of resource-fairness makes it impossible for billions of humans to lead decent lives, the sort of life-opportunities that a commitment to true equality should make an absolute essential.

Climate change both highlights and exacerbates this gulf in equality. It also provides the world with an opportunity. Climate change highlights our true interdependence and must lead to a new and respectful paradigm of sustainable development, based on the urgent need to scale up and transfer green technologies and to support low carbon climate resilient strategies for the poorest so that they become part of the combined effort in mitigation and adaption.


Share Benefits and Burdens Equitably

The benefits and burdens associated with climate change and its resolution must be fairly allocated. This involves acceptance of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in relation to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Those who have most responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and most capacity to act must cut emissions first.

In addition, those who have benefitted and still benefit from emissions in the form of on-going economic development and increased wealth, mainly in industrialised countries, have an ethical obligation to share benefits with those who are today suffering from the effects of these emissions, mainly vulnerable people in developing countries.  People in low income countries must have access to opportunities to adapt to the impacts of climate change and embrace low carbon development to avoid future environmental damage.


Ensure that Decisions on Climate Change are Participatory, Transparent and Accountable

The opportunity to participate in decision-making processes which are fair, accountable, open and corruption free is essential to the growth of a culture of climate justice. The voices of the most vulnerable to climate change must be heard and acted upon. A basic of good international practice is the requirement for transparency in decision-making, and accountability for decisions that are made. It must be possible to ensure that policy developments and policy implementation in this field are seen to be informed by an understanding of the needs of low income countries in relation to climate justice, and that these needs are adequately understood and addressed.

Decisions on policies with regard to climate change taken in a range of for a from the UNFCCC to trade, human rights, business, investment and development must be implemented in a way that is transparent and accountable: poverty can never be an alibi for government failure in this sphere.


Highlight Gender Equality and Equity

The gender dimension of climate change, and in turn climate justice, must be highlighted. The impacts of climate changes are different for women and men, with women likely to bear the greater burden in situations of poverty.

Women’s voices must be heard and their priorities supported as part of climate justice. In many countries and cultures, women are at the forefront of living with the reality of the injustices caused by climate. They are critically aware of the importance of climate justice in contributing to the right to development being recognised and can play a vital role as agents of change within their communities.


Harness the Transformative Power of Education for climate stewardship

The transformative power of education under-pins other principles, making their successful adoption more likely and inculcating into cultures a deeper awareness of human rights and climate justice than is presently to be found. To achieve climate stabilisation will necessitate radical changes in lifestyle and behavior and education has the power to equip future generations with the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive and survive.

Education is indispensable to the just society. Delivered in an effective multi-disciplinary school, college or univeristy environmental education can increase consciousness of climate change, producing new insights not only at the scientific but also at the sociological and political level. Education is also achievable outside the formal system, through public and increasingly, virtual (i.e. web-based) activity. The learning required to see climate change in justice terms cannot be done at the schools and university alone: it is a life-long responsibility and therefore a commitment.


Use Effective Partnerships to Secure Climate Justice

The principle of partnership points in the direction of solutions to climate change that are integrated both within states and across state boundaries. Climate justice requires effective action on a global scale which in turn requires a pooling of resources and a sharing of skills across the world. The nation state may remain the basic building block of the international system but without openness to coalitions of states and corporate interests and elements within civil society as well, the risk is that the whole house produced by these blocks will be rendered uninhabitable. Openness to partnership is a vital aspect of any coherent approach to climate change, and in the name of climate justice, this must also involve partnership with those most affected by climate change and least able adequately to deal with it – the poor and under-resourced.