Exploring the Nexus between Climate Change and Human Rights - Working Paper No. 345



Climate change is described as the defining challenge of our generation (Wang and Horton 2015). It poses direct and indirect threats to food security (Campbell et al. 2016), human security (Nordstrøm 2010) and global health (Bowles et al. 2015). It has also been described as a threat multiplier that can intensify and prolong conflicts (ibid.). Climate change involves increased temperatures, changes in precipitation, hazards, extreme weather events and sea level rise which impacts human rights through multiple pathways (Mason and Rigg 2019).
Human rights are understood as moral standards that are held by all people, they can also be formalised as legal rights (Bell 2013). Its widely accepted that the rights to subsistence and food, life and security and health are basic human rights (ibid.).

To understand the full impact of climate change on human rights, it is crucial to realise their interconnected nature (Limon 2009), a violation of one right leads to the violation of others.
This paper examines the link between climate change and the rights to food, security and health in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Africa is described as the most climate vulnerable continent (Quirico and Boumghar 2015). Von Uexkull (2016) finds that SSA will be hit most severely by regional warming, resulting in increased food insecurity, resource scarcity, extreme weather and conflicts. Climate change will also exacerbate existing socioeconomic risks and vulnerabilities (Field et al. 2014). There is significant research on how climate change impacts health (ibid.) and hunger (Myers et al. 2017) and only recently on conflict (Barnett and Adger 2007; OBrien et al. 2010). This study explores how food security, conflict and health are impacted by climate change by analysing data for correlation. In particular, this paper focuses on the security outcomes of climate change as well as the interplay between climate, food security, conflict and health.

Further, this paper examines the legal protections that exist to protect people against climate change by exploring how these rights are expressed in international and African human rights instruments. This also acts as a reference to examine climate change through a rights based approach (Humphreys 2013).

Therefore, this paper asks: How does climate change impact the rights to food, security and health?

  • To what extent are food security, conflict and health interrelated?

  • How does climate change impact food security, conflict and health and to what extent are governance, inequality and poverty important?

  • To what extent can climate change and other impacting variables predict conflict outcomes?