Sabin Center for Climate Change Law Submits Amicus Brief on Climate and Human Rights to Inter-American Court
On Friday, November 3, 2023, the Sabin Center submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the matter of the Request for Advisory Opinion on climate law, human rights, and climate science. This submission responds to the Request for Advisory Opinion presented by the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Chile, focusing on the intersection of the climate emergency and human rights.
The original request, made on January 9, 2023, builds upon Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 and seeks to establish Inter-American standards aimed at accelerating the region’s response to the climate crisis. Central to the request is a call for clarification of state obligations concerning climate mitigation, adaptation, and addressing loss and damage. Within this context, the request explores the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and international cooperation. Furthermore, it delves into the implications of environmental principles for countries’ obligations towards vulnerable groups, including children, women, indigenous communities, future generations, and environmental defenders. Notably, the request underscores the significance of considering the diverse impacts of climate change on present generations, variations in geographical consequences, and the rights of future generations as outlined by international human rights law. A full analysis of the request can be found here.
Contents of the Amicus Brief
The amicus brief submitted by the Sabin Center offers valuable insights into the role of climate science in informing the Inter-American Court’s assessment of state responsibilities in dealing with the adverse effects of climate change. Part I provides a broad overview of essential scientific research on climate change, delving into critical areas, including climate change detection, the causal links between human activities and climate change, projections of future climate change, and the remaining carbon budgets. Part II explores the connection between scientific evidence of injuries attributed to climate change and its implications for the rights protected under the American Convention on Human Rights, the San Salvador Protocol, and other human rights instruments. Part III elaborates on how scientific knowledge can play a pivotal role in the Court’s evaluation and characterization of state obligations related to greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation, climate change adaptation, climate finance, loss and damage, access to information, public participation, and access to justice.
The amicus brief underscores that climate change poses an imminent and actual threat to a wide range of human rights, affecting human health, livelihoods, culture, self-determination, and ecosystems. The severity of harm escalates with rising temperatures, underscoring the urgency of limiting anthropogenic warming to 1.5°C or well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. There is a need for deep and rapid reductions in GHG emissions within the next decade to achieve global climate targets, with a remaining carbon budget that equates to approximately six years of current carbon dioxide emissions.
Climate science can help define the differentiated responsibilities of states concerning GHG emissions and climate damages, offering insights into assessing state contributions to climate change-related harms, evaluating GHG reduction targets, and examining climate policies’ ambition. Climate science also demonstrates that, even with ambitious GHG mitigation, adaptation efforts will require substantial investments to safeguard human rights from the adverse impacts of climate change. Climate science informs the urgency and necessity of adaptation measures.
Furthermore, recognizing the dynamic nature of climate change, the amicus brief emphasizes the need for states to periodically reassess and adapt their responses based on evolving scientific evidence. State obligations concerning public participation, access to information, and access to justice should be tailored to promote science-based decision-making in policy, administrative, and judicial contexts.
Finally, the amicus brief underscores the vital role that climate science plays in informing policy, legal, and judicial decisions to protect human rights in the face of the climate emergency. The Sabin Center remains committed to advancing the understanding and application of climate science within the legal framework, contributing to a sustainable and equitable future.
The amicus brief is available here.