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Climate Change and Human Rights: Role of International Law?

May 31, 2018 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

In its 2009 report on the link between climate change and Human Rights the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted:

Climate change-related impacts, as set out in the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have a range of implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights. The effects on human rights can be of a direct nature, such as the threat extreme weather events may pose to the right to life, but will often have an indirect and gradual effect on human rights, such as increasing stress on health systems and vulnerabilities related to climate change-induced migration.*

The report pointed out that individuals and communities around the world are already experiencing effects of climate change and that existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated by climate change. However, often the impact of climate change on human rights is determined by non-climatic factors such as discrimination or historic marginalization. It highlighted the need protect persons displaced due to climate change-related events and particularly those who will be permanently displaced as a consequence of inundation of small island states.

In this presentation, Sumudu Atapattu proposes to highlight the challenges inherent in the application of international law to the adverse consequences of climate change under the following headings:

  1. Damage caused by historic emissions and the challenges of applying human rights to a global environmental problem
  2. Climate displacement
  3. Vulnerable groups and states, especially small island states

About the speaker

Sumudu Atapattu is the Director of Research Centers and International Programs at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She teaches seminar classes on “International Environmental Law” and “Climate Change, Human Rights and the Environment” and is affiliated with UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Center for South Asia. She is the Executive Director of the campus-wide interdisciplinary Human Rights Program. She serves as the Lead Counsel for Human Rights at the Center for International Sustainable Development Law based in Montreal, Canada, is on the advisory board of the McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law and is affiliated faculty at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Sweden. She has published widely in the fields of international environmental law, climate change, environmental rights, and sustainable development and her book titled Human Rights Approaches to Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities was published by Routledge in 2016. She was a co-editor of International Environmental Law and the Global South published by Cambridge University Press in 2015 and is currently working on a textbook titled Human Rights and Environment: Key Issues to be published by Routledge (with Andrea Schapper) and an edited volume titled The Cambridge Handbook on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development (with Carmen Gonzalez and Sara Seck) to be published by the Cambridge University Press in 2019. She holds an LL.M. (Public International Law) and a Ph.D. (International Environmental Law) from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and is an Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

*Human Rights Council (2009) Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Relationship between Climate Change and Human Rights, A/HRC/10/61, United Nations, available at:: <http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G09/103/44/PDF/G0910344.pdf?OpenElement> (hereinafter OHCHR report), para. 92.

A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte island. This region was the worst affected by the typhoon, causing widespread damage and loss of life. Caritas is responding by distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)


May 31, 2018
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm


In Person
Balsillie School of International Affairs, 67 Erb Street West
Waterloo, ON N2L 6C2 Canada
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(226) 772-3001
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