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Let's talk: Climate Change and Human Rights

last modified Jul 23, 2018 02:03 PM
As climate change has been reported to impact the rights of people all around the world, experts such as LSE’s Professor Stephen Humphreys suggest that a human rights approach could bring justice to those impacted. However, here is no clear consensus on how to do so. In order to further our understanding of how to merge these two fields, the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR) brought together students and staff from across the university in order to share ideas and perspectives through panel discussions and workshops.

Here is the event's write-up:

Co-authored by: Deepa Iyer, MPhil in Development Studies and Alexis Pala, MPhil in Public Policy, both members of the CGHR student group

The CGHR panel discussion and workshop on the overlap of climate change and human rights embodied an interdisciplinary perspective and highlighted ‘communities’ as the coordinates through which mitigation and adaptation need to be understood. 

Dr Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni of POLIS, chaired the panel and introduced the audience to the importance of approaching climate change from a rights-based perspective since such an approach clearly identifies right bearers and the claims of stakeholders. 

Dr Shailaja Fennell from the Centre of Development Studies argued for the importance of multi-scalar perspective in understanding resource availability and stakeholder involvement regarding risk analysis related to climate change. By using an institutional approach, she demonstrated how communities need to be resourceful in order to incentivize members to help in the adaptation process related to climate change especially in rural and agrarian settings with scarce resources. Her main argument was that a non-commercial form of entrepreneurship is emerging as an important intervention and has enabled the agency and ownership of community-based adaptation strategies. Using the example of Green Energy Africa, she argued that women’s leadership in the nomadic Masai community helped facilitate the adoption of mobile solar panels which can be transported on cattle for small household uses. 

Following this presentation, Cameron Mackay, an MPhil student studying Polar Studies at Scott Polar Research Institute and member of CGHR’s student group, featured his documentary on the agricultural transformation in the Himalayan villages in India. The documentary captured the tensions between local engineering solutions, national climate change policy and the cultural lifestyles of the communities. Climate Change & HR_2

The main insights from the panel discussion were: 

  • communities as an important scale of interventionat which climate change mitigation takes place, thus greatly overlapping with and influencing human rights
  • Second, institutional factors and social structures are as much a factor in mitigation and adaptation strategies as technical and infrastructural solutions and need to be explored more critically. 

The panel discussion was followed by an hour workshop session to get people moving and thinking more actionably about the information they had just learned. The workshop aimed to bring together the various experiences and disciplines present in the room to generate a holistic response. It attracted scientists, engineers, past civil servants, graduates, undergraduates, and more.

To kick-off, attendees broke out into various groups to ideate about climate change and human rights. Each group was assigned a different sector —multilateral organizations, government, civil society and academia— and had to discuss the impact and influence of each of these sectors. After brainstorming, each group was asked to devise a theory of change for their assigned sector. Currently, the various change strategies are being collated and transformed into a manifesto for climate change and human rights that should be released by the CGHR student group in the coming months. The vision is for the manifesto to serve as a starting point, catalyzing further discussion in an underexplored, but vitally important area. 

 Watch the video (by Cameron Mackay, CGHR student group)


Structure: In brief, the panel discussion was to prime attendees and provide grounding for the workshop that followed.

  • Workshop participants broke out into groups based upon randomly assigned sectors and ideated 
  • They then translated the groups ideas into a structured theory of change 
  • Lastly, all the groups presented on their work and thought about next steps going forward. 

Summary of Findings: Based upon the panel and workshop that followed, we have distilled the discussions down to three preliminary points:

1. As individuals, we could raise awareness of how our carbon footprints impact human rights. 

2. Small-scale business initiatives could be encouraged in sustenance communities. 

3. Quantify the impacts of climate change by the particular human rights that are violated. 

Next-steps: Due to finals, our final publication of the manifesto was delayed. We will be endeavoring over the course of July to synthesize all the research and publish our findings by the end of the month so keep watch!