Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights addresses climate change


GENEVA — Last month, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) released a List of Issues for the governments of Germany and Argentina, in which the countries must respond to CESCR’s concerns over their adoption of energy policies that are inadequate to prevent climate change and that fail to meet their obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

CESCR is the UN body that periodically reviews whether governments comply with their obligations under the Covenant. The List of Issues is a set of questions that the CESCR sends to countries regarding each party’s implementation of the agreement.

Climate change is widely recognized to have adverse impacts on human rights. The Paris Climate Agreement adopted in 2015 includes language calling for governments to respect, promote, and take into consideration their human rights obligations when taking action on climate change. This entails both protection from the current impacts of climate change and prevention of future impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and phasing out fossil fuels.

Addressing climate change, called the greatest threat to human rights in the 21st century by Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, requires urgent emissions reductions and support for affected countries to deal with the related impacts. As a human rights issue, human rights institutions have a role to play in evaluating whether governments are taking adequate actions to reduce emissions sufficiently and provide their fair share of support.

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), and Germanwatch submitted information to the CESCR regarding the inadequacy of Germany’s climate policies in line with the internationally agreed temperature limit of well below 2°C/1,5°C, with an emphasis on the lack of coal phase-out, the lack of effective policies to address pollution by diesel vehicles, and Germany’s insufficient climate finance to help other countries deal effectively with climate impacts.

For Argentina, CIEL, GI-ESCR, and Observatorio Petrolero Sur submitted information regarding fracking plans for the massive Vaca Muerta shale formation, the human rights violations associated with the project, and how the increased greenhouse gas emissions are incompatible with the country’s obligations under human rights and climate agreements.

“The concerns raised by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights regarding the energy policies of Germany and Argentina highlight that governments can no longer ignore the adverse impacts of fossil fuels on the climate and on human rights — both locally and globally,” said Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at CIEL. “The CESCR makes clear that states have an obligation under UN human rights agreements to prevent and reduce additional emissions of greenhouse gases generated by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.”

“The UN human rights experts have confirmed that climate change is a pertinent and urgent human rights issue that must be addressed by States in order to comply with their human rights legal obligations,” added Lucy McKernan, Geneva Representative for the GI-ESCR. “These questions to Argentina reveal serious concerns about the compatibility of extractives activities at Vaca Muerta with Argentina’s human rights obligations, and in particular, in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples and climate change mitigation.”

“Climate assessment of Vaca Muerta has been overlooked by the Argentinean government. How a massive export project can cope with Paris Agreement’s objectives is certainly a question that the State needs to clarify,” said Diego di Risio, coordinator for OPSur. “This is an important step for creating international awareness of Vaca Muerta. Outside Argentinean borders the only thing that is known are the reports of resource potential, but few are informed of the impacts that the megaproject is causing. Moreover, due to increasing violence against environmental defenders and indigenous communities registered in the region, further protection is needed.”

“The dramatic consequences of climate change impacts on human wellbeing and existential human rights need to be addressed immediately. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has taken an important step in this direction with highlighting that the commitments of Germany need to meet its legal obligations under the Covenant” said Christoph Bals, Policy Director at Germanwatch. “The most urgent decision for Germany is the coal phase out and transformation of the transport sector to reach its emissions targets. Also Germany has to provide financial support to help minimizing the scale of impacts and their threat to human rights in poor countries.”

The governments must respond to CESCR’s list of issues before June 2018. The CESCR will review this information, discuss it with the governments, and adopt “concluding observations” in September 2018.


Notes to Editors:


Amanda Kistler, Communications Director, CIEL:, +001.202.742.5832

Citations from Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights:

Argentina (List of Issues)

  1. Please indicate how the State Party reconciles its objective of exploiting unconventional fossils fuels, such as its project in Vaca Muerta in Neuquén, with its obligation to mitigate climate change as part of international cooperation in the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights.

  2. Please explain what concrete measures the State has taken or intend to take to prevent that the exploitation of unconventional fossils fuels, such as its project in Vaca Muerta in Neuquén, with techniques such as fracking, does not impact negatively on the environment and on the rights to housing, water, health and food of the persons in the region.

Germany (List of Issues)

  1. In the context of the threat posed by climate change to the world-wide enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, please provide information about the national emission reduction targets adopted by Germany under the Paris Agreement, its proposed contributions to the Green Climate Fund, as well as progress achieved towards compliance with these international obligations.


Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.


Since 1992, the environmental and development organization Germanwatch has been committed to sustainable global development within planetary boundaries and with the safeguarding of human rights for all. The worldwide consequences of German politics and economy are of specific interest.

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR)

GIESCR is an international non-governmental human rights organization which seeks to advance the realization of economic, social and cultural rights throughout the world, tackling the endemic problem of global poverty through a human rights lens.

Observatorio Petrolero Sur (OPSur)

Through research, advocacy and training OPSur seeks to strengthen democratic and fair pathways for energy and development. Under a rights-based approach, it has been working to raise awareness of Vaca Muerta developments since 2011.