Choosing a Future

Choosing a Future

The Social and Legal Aspects of Climate Change

Edited by Anna Grear and Conor Gearty

The issue is no longer whether climate change is happening; it is rather what we should now be doing about it. Drawing together key thinkers and policy experts, this unique volume – also a Special Issue of the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment - engages with the human dimensions of climate change, offering a timely intervention into contemporary debates about the challenging relationship between law and society in a time of climate crisis. The result is an imaginative, well-informed and provocative collection of contemporary engagements with the greatest challenge of the age, concerned not only to understand the current crisis but to offer perspectives on how it can be addressed. At the heart of this volume is the conviction that change is urgent, possible and morally imperative.

Chapter 3: Social and legal aspects of climate change

Mary Robinson

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, law and society, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


This symposium is taking place under the shadow of the havoc wreaked on the Philippines by super typhoon Haiyan – a portent of tragedies to come. I welcome its timely attention on ‘Changing the European Debate: Focus on Climate Change’. We need to change the debate on climate change: to move beyond its construct as a scientific or environmental problem and to realize that it is in essence an issue of development and of rights – an issue of importance to people now and in the future – a phenomenon that will shape our societies in the coming years and decades. For too long climate change has been left to scientists – and they to their credit have given us the evidence we need that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity. Climate change is a problem caused by people, with impacts on people, and must be solved by people. The impacts are as much social as physical, and the solutions as much legal as technical. Hence the title of the working group under which we are convened: ‘The social and legal aspects of climate change’. It is the impacts of climate change on people and societies that first drew me to the subject. I saw first-hand the impacts of extreme weather events and unpredictable seasons and rainfall on livelihoods and lives in communities already struggling to survive. These impacts were affecting the human rights I have spent so much of my life upholding and protecting. What I saw was an injustice – the negative impacts of a warming climate being felt most acutely by those who contributed least to the cause of the problem. Over and over again I heard local people say what my friend Constance Okollet said of the impacts on her village in Northern Uganda – ‘This is outside our experience’.

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