The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expects companies to address the inextricable link between climate change, the environment and human rights
Our key takeaway: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reinforces the inextricable link between climate change, the environment and human rights. Climate impacts represent “a major threat to the enjoyment of a wide range of rights”, and measures to respond to the climate crisis also bring “risks to the full enjoyment of human rights.” The IACHR expects companies to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, enable access to justice for human rights defenders in environmental matters, and integrate environmental impacts on human rights into their human rights due diligence – amongst other asks.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published Resolution 3/2021 outlining the scope of State and company responsibilities to address the “climate emergency.” We’ve pulled out a few key points:
- Climate change, the environment and human rights are inextricably linked, which is grounded in existing jurisprudence: The resolution acknowledges that, “both abrupt and slow-onset climate impacts produce changes in the natural cycles of ecosystems, droughts, floods, heat waves, fires, coastal losses, among others. They have brought with them a major threat to the enjoyment of a wide range of rights, inter alia, the right to life, food, housing, health, water and the right to a healthy environment. In addition, the measures that both States and business actors design and implement to respond to the climate crisis, including adaptation and mitigation measures to climate change, can also bring with them risks to the full enjoyment of human rights.” In light of the recognised link between human rights and the environment, “the Commission recalls that climate change directly affects the right to a healthy environment, which has been recognized as an autonomous and justiciable human right by the jurisprudence of the organs of the Inter-American Human Rights System.” In this regard, Advisory Opinion 23/17 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stands out, which stipulates that the protection of this right is not only intended to protect people’s interest in ecosystems, but also aims at the protection of nature and all its components for their intrinsic value. States also have a corresponding responsibility to ensure access to remedy: “States should adopt immediate measures to guarantee access to justice in environmental and climate matters of a judicial or administrative nature in accordance with the guarantees of due process, eliminate all barriers to its exercise and ensure free technical and legal assistance. This also includes the obligation to develop remediation measures to different relevant actors and especially to people directly affected by the climate crisis.”
- Companies should consider climate mitigation measures within their responsibility to respect human rights: While the resolution is directed to States, it also underscores the role of companies in addressing both climate change and human rights. For example, “[c]ompanies must adopt plans to reduce GHG emissions from their products and services, as well as those from their subsidiaries and suppliers. … Such companies should not hinder the implementation of environmental policies that seek the common good and respect for environmental rights. In addition, companies must publicly report their emissions, their vulnerability to the climate and their risk of disused assets, while not hindering access to justice, particularly for human rights defenders in environmental matters.” Companies should also incorporate environmental considerations into existing HRDD processes: “Companies must comply with all existing environmental laws and make clear commitments in line with their responsibility to respect human rights through environmental protection, put in place human rights due diligence processes (including human rights impact assessments) to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address their environmental impact on human rights, and enable all to be redressed the negative human rights effects they have caused or contributed to.”
- Climate mitigation and adaptation projects must respect human rights: The resolution acknowledges the need for States to balance their human rights obligations: to protect the environment and curb climate change, while protecting human rights in any mitigation measures. This is especially key for indigenous rights to land and natural resources: “By virtue of the right to collective property, States have the duty to own, delimit and demarcate the collective ancestral territory, taking into account the particular characteristics of the specific human group and avoiding granting concessions for projects that may affect the territories in the process of titling, delimitation and demarcation without a process of consultation and consent.”