January 19, 2024
Washington, D.C. — On December 18, 2023, the O’Neill Institute’s Health and Human Rights Initiative (HHRI) submitted a written opinion to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in support of the request for an advisory opinion on the climate emergency and human rights. Presented by the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Chile, this request seeks the court’s guidance on the complex interplay between human rights and the climate emergency and states’ obligations under international human rights law to address this crisis.
HHRI’s written opinion delves into the profound impact of climate change on human health and food security. Drawing on existing evidence regarding the effects of climate change, the submission provides an evidence-based account of how climate change impacts physical and mental health,contributes to changing diets, and disrupts crop and livestock systems. The opinion also emphasizes how climate change undermines access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food, especially among vulnerable populations.
The written opinion similarly analyzes these impacts through the human rights framework — providing a comprehensive analysis of the content of state obligations with respect to climate change. It argues that, pursuant to their obligations to respect and ensure human rights in the context of environmental protection, states have specific duties of prevention, precaution, cooperation, and procedure in climate matters. These duties, which can be informed by the rights to health and adequate food, primarily relate to the need to adopt mitigation, adaptation, and response strategies across all sectors and activities — including the health and food sectors — to address the threat of climate change. The submission also makes the case for greater clarity regarding immediate obligations and duties subject to progressive realization in this context, aiming to prevent both state and non-state actors from impeding urgently needed climate action.
The O’Neill Institute’s Health and Human Rights Initiative hopes that this opinion will contribute to the ongoing deliberations on the intersection of the climate emergency and human rights. HHRI believes that the IACtHR is uniquely positioned to draft an advisory opinion that ensures states and other key stakeholders are held accountable for climate action — laying the foundation for a human rights-based approach to the most pressing global challenge of our time.