Climate justice and human rights: Creating a climate for health, food and nutrition security and gender equity

Cristina Tirado-von der Pahlen, UCLA/International Union of Nutritional Sciences

Climate change and environmental degradation have an impact on health, food security and nutrition, and gender equity. The current and future impacts of climate change undermine human rights, including the right to food, to health and water among others. There is a new resolution, approved by the Human Rights Council in its 26th session in June this year, which recognises the need to fully respect human rights when taking climate action.

In relation to the right to adequate food, it is important to highlight that currently we have four billion people in the world affected by our dysfunctional food systems. While almost one billion people suffer from under-nutrition in poor countries, more than one billion adults worldwide are overweight. Nutrition insecurity and ill health related to diet are associated with poverty and gender inequality. The impact of the double burden of malnutrition in low and medium income countries, and the need for sustainable consumption and production, has been highlighted in the final report of the former UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food at the Human Rights Council’s 25th session, which referred to the transformative potential of the right to food.

Climate change is the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century. The right to health of ours and future generations is compromised by climate change and we are confronting an issue of intergenerational justice. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report points out the impacts of climate change on the already huge existing burden of undernutrition. The health chapters of the last two IPCC reports concluded – with high confidence – that the main impact of climate change on health is undernutrition of children in developing countries. At the same time, the IPCC has indentified the co-benefits to health and the environment of shifting diets in rich countries to less meat consumption and substitution of low-emission, healthy alternatives. We have to take this opportunity and make sure that our climate actions in the agriculture, food and health sectors contribute to address the existing double burden of malnutrition.

To address the challenges of climate change we need commitments and solutions that protect and respect human rights. The new resolution by the Human Rights Council, which recognises the need to fully respect human rights when taking climate change action, is very timely, as we head into the negotiation of a new climate agreement in Paris in 2015, and in view of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda, also due to be adopted next year.

A new policy brief on Climate Justice and Human Rights, with a focus on focus on health, food security, nutrition human mobility and gender equity, has been launched at COP20.

Among the key messages of our policy brief, we call for a recognition of key strategies which can contribute to realising human rights and empowering the most vulnerable communities. We are calling for the 2015 climate agreement to:

  • Recognise key strategies which can contribute to realising human rights and empowering the most vulnerable communities. We are calling for “language in the 2015 climate agreement that provides that Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights for all”;
  • Integrate the right to health and to adequate food as core issues in the adaptation debate. Addressing agriculture and food security is not sufficient to tackle the impact of climate change on the expected rise of undernutrition;
  • Integrate gender equality and equity as guiding principles for all climate action; and
  • Consider loss and damage as a human right and climate justice issue. The most vulnerable people and countries are likely to suffer most from climate change losses and damage, while contributing least to global greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information on the policy brief, visit: