COP26: Talks begin to boost human rights response to climate emergency

International human rights organisations will today begin three days of online talks, in parallel to COP26, aimed at boosting efforts to put human rights at the heart of climate policy.

The Symposium will bring together around 50 National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from around the globe. Delegates will be welcomed by Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government and will hear contributions from expert speakers including:

  • David Boyd, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
  • Dr Annalisa Savaresi, University of Stirling
  • Sebastian Duyck, Center for International Environmental Law

The Symposium is co-hosted by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the University of Stirling and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, with support from the United Nations Environmental Program, Development Program, and Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

The importance of human rights in climate policy and accountability was underscored recently by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which made the historic decision to recognise and better protect the universal human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

The three-day online NHRI Symposium (3-5 November) will support human rights institutions to engage with the United Nations climate regime. It will also focus on domestic approaches to strengthening climate accountability, including through judicial remedies as well as monitoring, reporting and policy development.

The Symposium comes as the European Network of NHRIs (ENNHRI) has submitted a third party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights on climate change and human rights, in the landmark climate case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and others v. Switzerland. ENNHRI’s submission underlines states’ responsibility to combat climate change effectively in order to protect the right to life.  

As COP26 proceeds, the Scottish Human Rights Commission also calls on the UK Government to show leadership at the conference by making specific commitments to better protect human rights in the context of climate change, such as committing to rapidly phasing out fossil fuels; contributing to climate finance to compensate those whose rights have already been adversely affected by climate change; and improving climate education and public participation.

Dr Jacqueline Kinghan, member of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, will address the Symposium. She comments:

“The Commission is delighted to co-host this international event which is taking place online, in parallel to COP26 in Glasgow.

“A human rights based approach is essential to dealing with the challenge of climate change. Climate change has profound impacts on people and their rights including access to water and sanitation, housing and homelessness, and loss of livelihoods.

“COP26 is an important opportunity to drive the global response needed to tackle the human rights issues associated with climate change. National Human Rights Institutions can play a key role in securing accountability for human rights within climate policy, and we are pleased to be able to support this event for our sister organisations from around the world.

“Here at home, we have also recently welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporating the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland, and will continue to work with them to make this right real and meaningful.”

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Notes to editor:

  1. Find out more about the Symposium Agenda and register here.
  2. The UK’s three National Human Rights Institutions released a joint statement this week warning that the Human Rights implications of the climate crisis must be tackled during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
  3. In October 2021 the Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomed a landmark resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council recognising the universal human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The move is of particular importance in Scotland as the Scottish Government prepares to introduce a new Human Rights Bill which will enshrine the right to a healthy environment – alongside many others – into Scotland’s domestic law.  Read our statement.