Webinar on States’ Human Rights Obligations to Mitigate Climate Change

The seminar was held on Zoom on Tuesday 29 June 2021.

A recording of the seminar is  available above on our Youtube-channel.

Opening remarks by Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights (French). A live translation in English is available from the above recording.

Join us for a webinar on climate change and human rights hosted by the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). The event will begin with a presentation regarding States’ human rights obligations to mitigate climate change based on the recent reports of the Norwegian NHRI and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), followed by a panel discussion with leading experts in human rights law, environmental law and climate litigation. The event will be held in English.


  • Françoise Tulkens, Former Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights
  • Jenny Sandvig, Policy Director, Norwegian National Human Rights Institution
  • Lucy Maxwell, Senior Legal Associate, Climate Litigation Network, the Urgenda Foundation
  • Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz, Head of ClientEarth Poland
  • Monica Iyer, Human Rights Officer, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • David Barnden, Principal Lawyer, Equity Generation Lawyers Australia

Background information

International human rights bodies are increasingly acknowledging the human rights impacts of the climate crisis. In March 2021, the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 46/7 in which it recognised that climate change can have negative implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of all human rights.1UN Human Rights Council, Resolution on the Environment and Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/46/L.6/Rev.1, 17 March 2021.  In a Joint Statement in 2019, several UN human rights treaty bodies emphasised that, in order to realise the objectives of the Paris Agreement and for States to comply with their human rights obligations, they must adopt and implement policies aimed at reducing emissions which reflect the highest possible ambition.2Joint Statement by CESCR, CEDAW, CMW, CRC and CRPD, Human Rights and Climate Change, UN Doc. HRI/2019/1, 16 September 2019, para. 11. UN Special Rapporteurs,3UN Special Rapporteur for human rights and the environment, Report on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, UN Doc. A/74/161, 15 July 2019; UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Report on Climate Change and Poverty, UN Doc. A/HRC/41/39, 17 July 2019.; UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, Report on Climate Change, Culture and Cultural Rights, UN Doc. A/75/298, 10 August 2020.  as well as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR),4OHCHR, OHCHR and Climate Change – Overview, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/HRAndClimateChange/Pages/HRClimateChangeIndex.aspx.  have also addressed the human rights impacts of climate change in their reports.

At the same time, cases concerning climate change and human rights are increasingly brought before national and international courts.5UNEP, Global Climate Litigation Report: 2020 Status Review, 26 January 2021, pp. 13 et seq., 41 et seq.  Most recently, the German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe held that Germany violated fundamental rights because it did not take the required precautionary steps to specify emissions reduction targets after 2030.6Neubauer and others v. Germany, BVerfG, Order of the First Senate of 24 March 2021, 1 BvR 2656/18 (German Constitutional Court). The Court echoed the findings of the Dutch Supreme Court of December 2019,7Urgenda v. Netherlands [2019] ECLI:NL:HR:2019:2007 (Supreme Court of the Netherlands). noting that the right to life and physical integrity, as well as the right to property, obliges the State to protect against climate change. Similarly, in a 2021 French case regarding missed climate targets, the Administrative Tribunal of Paris held France responsible for having contributed to “une partie” of the environmental harm of climate change by overstepping its national carbon budget.8Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (2021) no. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, 1904976/4-1 (Administrative Court of Paris), para. 34. The Irish Supreme Court has noted that the consequences of failing to address climate change are “very severe with potential significant risks both to life and health”.9Friends of the Irish Environment v. The Government of Ireland [2020] IESC 49 (Supreme Court of Ireland).

In a 2020 judgment, the Norwegian Supreme Court held that both territorial and exported GHG emissions from oil and gas produced in Norway are encompassed by a Constitutional environmental provision and that climate change threatens life in Norway under ECHR Article 2.10Nature and Youth Norway and others v. Norway, HR-2020-2472-P (Supreme Court of Norway), paras. 149 and 167. However, the Court concluded that there was no “real and immediate” risk associated with the specific exploration licenses for oil and gas under review as they had not led to the discovery of oil and gas and were unlikely to in the near future.

In addition, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) communicated its first climate case in November 2020, Duarte Agostinho and Others v Portugal and 32 Other States (known as the ‘Portuguese Youth Climate Case’). This was swiftly followed by a second case, Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz and Others v Switzerland, communicated in April 2021, in addition to several pending applications which are yet to be communicated by the Court.

Common themes are emerging in these cases, including questions regarding State jurisdiction over extra-territorial emissions or effects, whether individuals or associations have standing and can be regarded as victims of potential human rights violations, and the extent of State’s positive obligations to protect individuals from climate-related harms.

In light of these developments, this webinar will explore States’ human rights obligations to mitigate climate change, with practical examples from cases at both the national and international levels.