Human Rights, Climate Change and The Trillionth Ton (H. Shue)


Henry Shue


Right to Life, Right to Health, Right to Subsistence, Framework Convention of Climate Change


The desultory, almost leisurely approach of most of the world’s national states to climate change reflects no detectable sense of urgency. My question is what, if anything, is wrong with this persistent lack of urgency. My answer is that everything is wrong with it and, in particular, that it constitutes a violation of basic rights as well as a failure to seize a golden opportunity to protect rights. I criticized the outcome of the initial climate conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, for establishing “no dates and no dollars: no dates are specified by which emissions are to be reduced by the wealthy states and no dollars are specified with which the wealthy states will assist the poor states to avoid an environmentally dirty development like our own. The convention is toothless.” The general response to such criticisms was that the convention outcome was a good start.
One question naturally is: Which rights of the people to come are
threatened by climate change, and in which particular ways? Fortunately, a strong contribution to answering this question in detail has been made by Simon Caney, who has carefully shown how climate change will specifically threaten at least three rights, the right to life, the right to health, and the right to subsistence. Here I shall simply rely on Caney’s arguments about which rights so that I can focus on two other questions as they arise in the context of climate change: Which features do rights-protecting institutions need to have and what specifically are the tasks that need to be performed to protect rights against the threat of rapid climate change?


in (2011) The Ethics of Global Climate Change 292, D.G. Arnold (Ed.) (CUP: Cambridge)


Human Rights, Climate Change and the Trillionth Ton