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Protecting and Promoting Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change is a Fundamental State Obligation
-NHRCK presents its first opinion regarding climate crisis and human rights, emphasizing protective measures for vulnerable groups and upward revision of national GHG emissions reduction targets-
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea(NHRCK) released its opinion on December 30 2022 to the President of Korea regarding climate change and human rights.
As the climate crisis has far-reaching impacts on multiple human rights, including the rights to life, food, health and housing, the government should regard protecting and promoting the rights of everyone in the midst of climate crisis as its fundamental obligation and reform related laws and systems to address the climate crisis from a human rights perspective.
One of the priorities for the government should be to introduce measures to protect people vulnerable to the climate crisis and their adaptive capacity by categorizing them based on climate change patterns and social and geographical characteristics of Korea and analyzing the adverse impacts of climate change on employment, labor conditions, housing, health and sanitation.
Given the international standards stated in the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year, the government needs to raise the national targets for greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions reduction for 2030, which are specified in Article 3 of the Enforcement Decree of the Framework Act on Carbon Neutrality and Green Growth for Coping with Climate Crisis, and set the goals for the period after 2030 to clearly define its obligations to cut emissions for the protection of basic rights of future generations.
The government should make sure that it includes and reflects the views of diverse stakeholders when setting GHG reduction targets, including companies as well as people who are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as farmers, fishers, persons with disabilities, migrants and consumers.
Furthermore, efforts should be made to adopt systems and policies that encourage businesses to cut GHG emissions, including stricter climate change-related reporting requirements for businesses, which will help improve their accountability and transparency.
An integrated information system can be established to provide the results of climate change impact assessments, GHG emissions, and other related information in a systematic and transparent manner to ensure everyone has prompt access to related data.
With climate change emerging as the biggest and pervasive threat to humankind, the United Nations and the international community are trying to address the human rights impacts of climate change, along with the efforts to identify causes and prevent damages from climate change.
The UN Human Rights Council has so far adopted 12 resolutions on climate change and human rights and appointed a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change who will be responsible for facilitating exchange of views about related topics. Furthermore, a report of the UN Secretary-General on the topic of protection of human rights of vulnerable groups in the context of climate change was presented at the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in 2022.
International organizations, such as the Asia-Europe Meeting(ASEM) and European Commission, are jointly responding to the climate crisis through discussions on human rights and climate change and release of official guidelines that require companies to report matters related to the environment and human rights.
National human rights institutions(NHRI) are also contributing to these efforts through regional and global networks. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions stress the practical roles that NHRIs can play in coping with climate change and encourage NHRIs to share their experiences and best practices.
The Dutch Supreme Court rendered a decision in 2020 that the act of setting GHG emissions reduction targets below the level that is required internationally is a breach of a State obligation of protect citizens and ordered an upward revision of the targets. The German Federal Constitutional Court held that the German Federal Climate Change Act was partially unconstitutional as it only specifies emissions targets for the period until 2030 and thus violates the fundamental rights of future generations. As seen from these cases, GHG emissions reduction goals often become the subject of judicial reviews theses days.
There is a growing call at home that the climate crisis should be treated as a human rights issue. In December 2020, the NHRCK received a complaint claiming a violation of human rights caused by climate change. The Constitutional Court is now considering multiple complaints that the national emissions targets for 2030 is a violation of the fundamental rights protected under the Constitution. Recognizing the importance of human rights protection in the face of the climate crisis, the NHRCK conducted a survey on public perceptions of climate change and human rights and domestic and foreign policy trends in 2021.
The release of the NHRCK‘s opinion on climate change and human rights to the president of Korea reflects growing demands from national and international stakeholders for an active response to climate change, which poses a significant threat to the enjoyment of human rights. It is noteworthy as it is the first official opinion presented by the Commission on the subject of climate change and human rights.
In the face of a climate crisis that requires international efforts and joint response, the NHRCK will work to ensure that a human rights-based approach is adopted across related government policies and systems.