The Contribution of Human Rights as an Additional Perspective on Climate Change Impacts in the Pacific (S. Tully)


Stephen Tully


Climate Change, Human Rights, Climate Impacts, United Nations, Pacific Islands, Resettlement, International Humanitarian Law, International Environmental Law, Environmental Refugees


The adverse impacts of climate change include temperature variations, lost biodiversity and more frequent extreme weather events. In particular, low-lying Pacific Island countries and territories will be inundated if predicted sea level rises eventuate. These impacts threaten the continued enjoyment by Pacific Islanders of their fundamental human rights. Rising sea levels threatens their personal safety, continued good health, secure access to proper means of subsistence including food and water and the habitability of coastal settlements. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change encourages developed states to adopt measures that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and financially support adaptation activity undertaken by developing countries. However, several states lack the requisite political will, financial support is inadequate, adaptation measures are limited and small island developing states are becoming increasingly vulnerable. This article provides an overview of climate change impacts within the Pacific region in human rights terms. It argues that the strategy of adaptation, although consistent with the sustainable development agenda, is limited as an effective long-term response to sea level rise. It proposes an international framework that ensures, in the worst-case scenario, that affected individuals are relocated and resettled within other states. It draws upon existing and emergent legal regimes with respect to humanitarian assistance, natural disasters, maritime law concerning search and rescue, internally displaced persons, the environmental refugee concept and the obligations of interstate cooperation arising under international environmental law in the event of transboundary harm. This framework will be most effective if underpinned by the many positive contributions to be made by the paradigm for the protection of human rights.


(2007) 5 New Zealand Journal of Public International Law 175


The Contribution of Human Rights as an Additional Perspective on Climate Change Impacts in the Pacific