For Immediate Release


Cate Bonacini:

UN Human Rights Committee Flags US Must Address Climate Change to Protect the Right to Life

This marks the first time that the oldest human rights treaty body has raised an issue with any State in relation to climate change.

Geneva - Today, the UN Human Rights Committee made public its request that the US government provide information regarding policies and measures implemented by the government to protect the right to life from the adverse impacts of climate change. This marks the first time that the oldest human rights treaty body has raised an issue with any State in relation to climate change.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) Senior Attorney Sébastien Duyck issued the following statement:

As climate-related events across the United States have demonstrated again and again over the past few years, climate change is taking an increasing toll on human life. The request of the Human Rights Committee indicates that the US’s international legal obligation to protect the right to life requires action to address the threats posed to that right caused by climate change. While the US must increase its efforts to build the resilience of communities and to promote adaptation, climate change’s most dangerous threats can only be effectively averted by urgently reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and seeking a full decarbonization of the economy to keep global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.

Lucy McKernan, UN Advocate for the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), issued the following statement:

This is a significant moment, as the Human Rights Committee, which usually deals with issues such as torture and the death penalty, has recognised that the impacts of climate change are so serious as to rise to the level of a threat to the right to life. The US must now respond to the Committee, indicating what measures it is taking, mitigation and adaptation, to protect Americans from climate impacts. It is becoming clearer and clearer that states cannot protect human rights without urgently addressing climate change.



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The Human Rights Committee has asked the US to report back on the following issue as part of its periodic reporting under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the US. The specific language is:

Further clarify the State party’s initiatives to address significant threats to the right to life posed by impacts of climate change such as flash floods, coastal flooding, wildfires, infectious disease, extreme heat and air pollution.

This issue is one of 29 raised with the US in the “List of Issues Prior to Reporting.” The US must respond, and the Committee will then hold a dialogue in Geneva with the US government, to discuss their responses.

A joint report by CIEL and GI-ESCR to the Human Rights Committee on climate and the right to life in the US is available here.

A compilation of recommendations on climate change, from human rights committees to states, is available here.


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Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has worked to strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

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