Yesterday, Jeni and I guest lectured in Professor Wolcher’s International Human Rights Law class at UW Law. Naturally, the topic was on the subject of climate change and human rights.
In preparation for class, we asked the students to read Climate Change and Human Rights: A Rough Guide (International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2008), and Climate Change: Redemption through Crisis by theoretical physicist Sivan Kartha (Tellus Institute, 2006).
The Rough Guide details how climate change threatens states’ efforts to satisfy their human rights obligations, particularly those rights outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Kartha’s article goes even further, forecasting a world in 2084 that realized its duty of international cooperation and surmounted dangerous levels of climate interference through good governance. Kartha refers to this transformation as The Great Transition, wherein climate change itself becomes a profoundly transformational phenomenon for society. But only once society took adaptation—and implicitly, human rights—seriously.
After walking students through important background on international environmental and human rights law (and their failings), we gave them the following assignment. We wanted to push open their imagination gap a bit.
It’s 2084. Human society has experienced the Great Transition. The World Parliament has come together to promote international cooperation and to address ongoing threats to climate.
You are all members of the World Parliament meeting in Seattle, Washington, to negotiate a new human rights convention capable of protecting rights in a warmer world…. You may assign positive and or negative rights, procedural and or substantive rights. You may draw from civil and political as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. You have freedom to rethink and redesign human rights but in the context of climate realities.
We don’t expect you to write an entire human rights treaty in 20 minutes! The requirements of this assignment are to write a short Preamble and 5–10 Articles.
Here’s an example of what the students came up with:
Whereas national governments have not effectively responded to the problems of global climate change.
Whereas common burdens should be shared more heavily with the greatest resources.
Whereas those who have created a problem have the responsibility to solve it and make amends.
In the interest of resolving the environmental crisis that may soon destroy all humankind and ecosystem, we submit that:
1. All people shall have the right to be provided with reasonable funding for the purpose of relocation where their homes are seriously endangered or destroyed by global climate change for the purpose.
2. No one shall forest, whale, fish or commit other environmentally egregious acts without a permit from the Environmental Committee of the World Parliament.
3. No nation shall take resources from another country without that country’s permission.
4. All people have the right to basic human needs, including but not limited to clean food, water, air, & sanitation housing conditions.
5. Any person whose rights have been violated under this convention shall have standing to sue in the dispute resolution body established by the World Parliament.
6. All nations must submit an annual environmental report to the World Parliament’s Environmental Committee, regarding compliance with this convention. Any intentional violation will be punishable by a reasonable fine levied by the Environmental Committee.