Climate Change and International Law
Chapter 5: International human rights law, intergenerational justice and climate change
Human rights provides a solid basis for an ethical obligation on current generations to protect the welfare of future generations in the context of climate change (see Chapter 2). This chapter turns to consider the related but distinct question of whether utilisation of international human rights law can assist in meeting the justice principles essential for addressing intergenerational justice set out in Chapter 3. International human rights law may come into play on a number of levels. Firstly, the breach of human rights obligations which flows from unmitigated climate change may provide further political weight to pressure governments to take necessary mitigation action and strengthen the global climate regime. Couching claims in terms of human rights can give increased political weight to an issue (Hiskes 2009: 7). The recent introduction of human rights discourse into the UNFCCC negotiations reflects this desire for increased political weight. But given North-South conflicts in relation to human rights, this raises the issue as to whether this will exacerbate the existing North-South stand-off in the UNFCCC negotiations, an issue further considered in Chapter 7 below. Secondly, human rights may provide benchmarks - in the sense of thresholds - on the basis of which mitigation targets may be embodied in a global climate treaty. Human rights would seem attractive here owing to their basis in widely shared values (2.1). But, as we will see, crafting mitigation targets necessarily involves distributional justice issues, such as how to distribute the mitigation burden between current and future generations.
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