The first report was his final annual thematic report (A/HRC/37/58) to the Human Rights Council, addressing the rights of children in relation to the environment, the ways that environmental harm prevents children from enjoying their human rights and the obligations that States have, to protect children from such harm.
In this report on children’s rights, the Special Rapporteur points out that children (persons under the age of 18) are the group most vulnerable to environmental harm and ‘environmental harm has especially severe effects on children under the age of 5’. He discusses the effects on children of air pollution, water pollution and climate change, highlighting that ‘climate change contributes to extreme weather events, water scarcity and food insecurity, air pollution and vector-borne and infectious diseases, all of which already have severe effects on children’.
The Special Rapporteur emphasises that the health impacts of climate change are not the only impacts on children’s rights. Climate change heightens existing social and economic inequalities, entrenches poverty and reverses development progress. For example, ‘climate change-induced food insecurity is already increasing the number of marriages of girl children, who are pressured to marry to reduce burdens on their families of origin’. The report also discusses the impacts on children of chemicals (including pesticides), toxic substances and wastes and the loss of biodiversity and access to nature.
The specific human rights impacted are then identified by the Special Rapporteur: the rights to life, health, development, an adequate standard of living, food, housing, water and sanitation and rights to play and recreation.
Turning then to obligations, the Special Rapporteur explains that States’ human rights obligations ‘apply with particular force to the rights of children, who are especially at risk from environmental harm and often unable to protect their own rights’. He identifies educational and procedural obligations: of environmental education (CRC Art 29); of information and assessment (CRC Art 13); to consider the views of children (CRC Art 12); and to provide for effective remedies (CRC Art, ICCPR Art 2(3)).
He then discusses substantive and non-discrimination obligations, noting that States have obligations to take deliberate, concrete and targeted measures to prevent all harmful environmental interference with the full enjoyment of human rights. Whilst States have discretion as to what measures to take, that discretion is restricted with respect to children, since States must ‘adopt and implement special measures of protection, assistance and care for children, and to ensure that the best interests of children are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children’ (CRC Art 3, ICESCR Art 10(3)).
Further, due to their vulnerability, States have ‘heightened obligations to take effective measures to protect children from environmental harm. They should make certain that they are protecting children’s rights before they make decisions that may cause environmental harm, including by: collecting and disseminating disaggregated information on the effects of pollution, chemicals and other potentially toxic substances on the health and well-being of children; ensuring that the views of children are taken into account in environmental decision-making; and carrying out children’s rights impact assessments’. They should also regulate private actors including businesses.
Finally, the Special Rapporteur considers the rights of future generations and makes recommendations, including that ‘The Committee on the Rights of the Child should consider adopting a new general comment on children’s rights and the environment’.
The Special Rapporteur’s second report(A/HRC/37/59) presents framework principles on human rights and the environment, addresses the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and looks ahead to the next steps in the evolving relationship between human rights and the environment.
The 16 Framework Principles set out the obligations of States under human rights law as they relate to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. They do not create new obligations, but reflect the application of existing human rights obligations in the environmental context. The Special Rapporteur says the principles are ‘a reflection of actual or emerging international human rights law’, but ‘at a bare minimum, States will see them as best practices that they should move to adopt as expeditiously as possible’. He notes that they are neither comprehensive nor static and will evolve further in the future.
Principles 1 & 2 state that ‘States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights’ and the converse, that States should protect rights in order to ensure a healthy environment, since the two are interdependent. The Principles also address non-discrimination, protection of defenders of the environment, States’ obligations with respect to education and public awareness on environmental matters and to collect and disseminate environmental information and provide effective public access to it.
Principle 8 describes States’ obligations to require environmental and human rights impact assessments of projects and policies and to provide for and facilitate public participation in decision-making related to the environment and access to effective remedies.
The principles also set out States’ obligations to cooperate with respect to ‘international legal frameworks in order to prevent, reduce and remedy transboundary and global environmental harm that interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights’ and to protect human rights in actions to address environmental challenges and sustainable development.
Finally, the principles underline that States must pay special attention to those at particular risk from environmental harm and to the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities.
In discussing the right to a healthy environment, the Special Rapporteur notes the ‘greening’ of human rights law despite the absence of a human right to a healthy environment at the international level. The majority of countries have recognised this right at the national or regional level, and this has raised the profile and importance of environmental protection, provided a basis for the enactment of stronger environmental laws, helped to protect against gaps in statutory laws and created opportunities for better access to justice.
The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Human Rights Council ‘consider supporting the recognition of the right in a global instrument’.
Finally, the Rapporteur identifies areas where more work is needed, such as clarifying how human rights norms relating to the environment apply to specific areas, ‘including issues of gender and other types of discrimination, the responsibilities of businesses in relation to human rights and the environment, the effects of armed conflict on human rights and the environment, and obligations of international cooperation in relation to multinational corporations and transboundary harm’.
In addition, the High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the Council on the slow onset effects of climate change and human rights protection for cross-border migrants (A/HRC/37/CRP.4). The study was undertaken in collaboration with the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD) following an expert meeting in October 2017, and discusses the connection between the slow onset adverse effects of climate change, human rights, and the cross-border movement of people.
The report introduces the links between climate change, human rights, and human mobility and considers the implications slow onset events have for human rights. It also analyses, the international legal landscape for cross-border movement, including protection gaps and state obligations. Case studies are presented to highlight the challenges such movement poses and examples of how to protect those who move in the context of slow onset events, through legal obligations and policy responses.
In conclusion, it considers international and regional mechanisms that might respond to these issues, calls for further clarification and recognition of the relationship between these factors and highlights the opportunity to plan and prepare for events and impacts.
A further report on climate change, human rights and migration was submitted to the Council by the OHCHR (A/HRC/37/35) providing a summary of the intersessional panel discussion on human rights, climate change, migrants and persons displaced across international borders, held in October 2017. The report was also submitted to the preparatory process leading to the adoption of the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration and to the work of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (particularly the Task Force on Displacement) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.