May 11, 2022 — Climate change threatens the human rights of our generation, including the rights to life, health, water and sanitation. Pace University Professor of International Law Smita Narula discussed the protection of these human rights, the impacts of climate change and the importance of a healthy environment as part of the University of Houston Law Center’s Energy Transition and Climate Governance lecture series. Narula’s presentation “Can a Right to a Healthy Environment Deliver Climate Justice?” was sponsored by the European Union’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions and spearheaded by Fellow in Law and Energy Policy Dr. Aubin Nzaou.
The protection of human rights and a healthy environment are linked, mutually reinforcing fairness and an equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate change and responsibilities.
“Huge amounts of the world’s population are already living under a state of climate emergency,” Narula said. “The climate crisis is also a human rights crisis; those that are suffering the greatest harm have contributed the least to the crisis.”
Climate change is an example of distributive injustice and poses an enormous threat to the lives and well-being of individuals and communities worldwide, recognizing an expanding social injustice composed primarily of a marginalized, minority of people suffering from extreme heat, ozone depletion and bearing the brunt of the climate crisis while contributing the least to cause the ripple of detrimental climate changes.
“The warning signs have largely been ignored, especially by high-emitting countries, and we can start to ask the question, ‘Why have they been ignored?’” Narula said. “This is exactly what a climate justice lens enables us to do.”
Governments have both substantive and procedural obligations in relation to climate change and are now searching for ways to mitigate it and maintain a healthy environment, providing grounds for climate change litigations and policy formulation while also protecting human rights from climate-related harms.
The substantive climate law presently in place must be further developed through normative rules binding states individually to commitments to the environment to prompt further U.S. involvement.
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