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Contesting human rights and climate change at the UN Human Rights Council

M Joel Voss

Keywords: human rights; United Nations; norms; frames; climate change; contestation; diplomacy

Climate change is one of the defining problems of our time. The relationship between climate change and human rights is receiving increased attention by stakeholders, including the UN and its primary human rights body, the Human Rights Council. Discussions on the relationship between climate change and human rights are hotly contested. This article is concerned with how states advocate for or against climate change and human rights at the Council. Participant observation on climate change resolutions from 2006 to 2019 through the UN's webTV archives are used to illustrate how states frame climate change.

Although passed without a vote, significant contestation occurs over the content of each resolution. During explanations of the vote, Member States make some form of three claims – using one of three dominant framings. The first focuses on equity and development. The second frames the relationship between human rights and climate change: climate change is either constructed as a problem undermining human rights or as generating a responsibility for states to protect human rights when responding to it. The final argument's framing revolves around the mandate of the Council to discuss climate change as a human right. This article helps shed light on theories of norm contestation and on the strategies and frames used in advocating for the relationship between human rights and climate change and its construction – and significance – in the UN Human Rights Council.

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