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United Nations Human Rights Office of the High commissioner
Welcome to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation


Climate change and the Human Rights to Water & Sanitations

The relationship between climate change and human rights is far from self-evident. While it is clear that climate change is already impacting negatively on lives, livelihoods and the availability and quality of water and sanitation services, these impacts do not necessarily translate to violations of duties under international human rights law. Climate change is a quintessentially global problem, involving complex scientific projections. Causation, attribution and apportionment of responsibility for harms can be notoriously difficult to determine in these circumstances.

Moreover, climate change and human rights are governed by separate international legal regimes, the subject of a burgeoning academic literature but comparatively little crossfertilisation in practice. There is presently no internationally recognised human right to an environment or climatic conditions of a particular quality, although this varies considerably under regional and national human rights laws. More significantly still, perhaps, climate change and human rights policy-making have distinctive institutional settings and constituencies at both international and national levels. The former is typically the domain of natural scientists and economists, and the latter has so far been dominated by lawyers and political scientists. Hence, any attempt to reconcile the climate change and human rights regimes inevitably runs into a series of thorny empirical, normative and institutional questions at the outset.

This paper seeks to unpack these challenging premises as the basis for a set of conclusions and forward-looking recommendations on how to promote greater legal and policy coherence in the human rights and climate change fields. The paper begins by examining the relationship between the international legal regimes governing climate change and the human rights to water and sanitation, focusing in a schematic fashion upon the contours and content of the legal obligations relating to each. Drawing from this analysis and recent findings in the empirical literature, Part C discusses the various respects in which the human rights to water and sanitation may be undermined by climate change, whether or not this also may constitute a legal violation. Part D then outlines a range of priorities and possibly entry points for strengthening legal and policy coherence in climate change and human rights negotiations and policy-making, with a focus on water and sanitation. Conclusions and key recommendations are summarised in Part E.

Here, you can find the offcial Climate Change and the Rights to Water and Sanitation document.