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Climate Change and Security: Human Rights Challenges and Opportunities in Small Island Developing States


Statement by H.E. Ms. Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council

8 April 2021

Excellencies, Dear Colleagues,

Bula Vinaka and Good Day. By way of introduction, my name is Nazhat Shameem Khan. I am the Ambassador of the Republic of Fiji to the United Nations in Geneva, and this year I have the honour of serving as the President of the Human Rights Council. 

It is my great pleasure to join you today for this online briefing session on Climate Change and Security: Human Rights Challenges and Opportunities in Small Island Developing States.

At the outset, I would like to thank the Pacific Islands Forum, the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States for organising this important event.

If I may, I would like to begin my remarks on a personal note – as a Fijian.

And as a Fijian, I know first-hand how climate change adversely impacts the human rights of persons living in Small Islands Developing States.

Because of increasingly intense weather systems and rising seawaters, I have seen damage to infrastructure that threatens the rights to housing, to water and to sanitation; I have seen the displacement of families and communities that threatens cultural rights and the right to education; and I have seen the slow and sudden onset natural disasters that threaten the right to life. And I cannot emphasise enough that these threats are particularly acute for vulnerable populations.

Tragically, in 2020, this fact was again underlined as Fiji suffered from two serious Tropical Cyclones.

But climate change’s threat to the full enjoyment of all human rights has been recognised and responded to, in the efforts of international organisations, and  the connection between climate change and human rights is recognised at the highest levels of the United Nations.

Indeed, on 23 February, the Secretary-General of the United Nations delivered a statement on addressing climate-related security risks to international peace and security through mitigation and resilience building, in which he noted that “preventing and addressing the poverty, food insecurity and displacement caused by climate disruption contributes to sustaining peace and reducing the risk of conflict” and that “respect for human rights, particularly women’s rights, the rule of law, inclusion and diversity, are fundamental to solving the climate crisis and creating more peaceful and stable societies”.1

Excellencies, Dear Colleagues,

This important statement by the Secretary-General is complemented by the Human Rights Council’s significant and continuing work to address the adverse human rights impacts of climate change, including its impacts on vulnerable populations like women and girls.

For example, at its recent 46th session, which concluded on 24 March, the Council adopted a resolution entitled “Human Rights and the Environment”, which extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment. Importantly, the resolution requested that the Special Rapporteur apply a gender-perspective by considering “the particular situation of women and girls and identifying gender-specific discrimination and vulnerabilities when addressing climate change and environmental degradation”.2

This resolution is just one example of the Council’s important and enduring work on climate change and human rights.

Indeed, every year since 2014, the Council has adopted a resolution on human rights and climate change. Each year, this resolution focuses on a specific human rights theme, which has included the connections between human rights, climate change, migrants and persons displaced across international borders; the adverse impacts of climate change on the rights of the child; and the adverse impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities. The resolution adopted by the Council last July focused on the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by older persons.

Through each of its human rights and climate change resolutions, the Human Rights Council mandates important activities and reports that analyse the relationship between climate change and human rights. These activities and reports also shed light on how to best ensure the human rights of vulnerable populations in the context of climate action.

For example, pursuant to the resolution adopted by the Council in July 2019, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights distributed in April 2020 an “Analytical Study on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Context of Climate Change” which highlighted the SAMOA Pathway as a “key legal and policy” instrument “that should inform disability-inclusive climate action”.3

Further, the Council has taken timely action on climate change’s impact on human rights in the context of contemporary challenges, like the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the first lockdown last spring, the Council adopted by consensus a President’s Statement that recognised the wide-range of human rights implications of the pandemic, including by emphasising the importance of timely, equitable and unhindered access to medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, including for persons affected by natural disasters or climate change.

This President’s Statement mandated the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world, which the High Commissioner presented to the Human Rights Council during its recently concluded 46th session.

I was pleased to see that the High Commissioner’s report included a number of insightful recommendations for climate action, including to ensure that any new investments to relaunch economies are “in accordance with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change” and to ensure that “all Covid-19 recovery policies…accelerate the transition to zero-emission economies in a manner that contributes to the realisation of all human rights”.4

Excellencies, Dear Colleagues,     

If I may, I would like to conclude my remarks by underlining the connection between human rights and climate change - to effectively mitigate and eventually prevent the negative human rights impacts of climate change, we must ensure that inclusivity, diversity and gender-equality are properly considered when taking any climate action.

Unless and until, we put people, and especially those who are disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of climate change, in the centre of climate  policy making and climate policy implementation, we will make no progress in reducing the vulnerability of all people to the adverse effects of climate change, nor to effective steps to reduce the harmful conduct which endangers our environment.

Only then will we be able to formulate and implement effective and ambitious climate action that is anchored in the lived experience of those most vulnerable and is truly responsive to all people.

I thank you all for your attention.




2/ Operative Paragraph 5(g), A/HRC/46/L.6/Rev.1, “Human Rights and the Environment”.

3/ Paragraphs 24 & 38, A/HRC/44/30, “Analytical Study on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Context of Climate Change”.

4/ Paragraph 87(a)-(b), A/HRC/46/9, “Impact of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic on the Enjoyment of Human Rights Around the World, including Good Practices and Areas of Concern”.