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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

September 2019: Climate change has the potential to erode human rights, such as social security, access to food, healthcare, shelter, and decent work. The report identifies government leadership and private sector investments as key drivers to adapt current human rights mechanisms.


A new report by the UN’s special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights highlights the risk of climate change eroding human rights, especially for vulnerable people in developing countries. This could undermine progress achieved over the last 50 years in reducing global poverty and improving global health. Despite developing countries only causing 10% of global GHG emissions, their livelihoods are at higher risk from natural disasters, crop failures, spikes in food prices, and death or disability, thus they may bear approximately 75% of the costs of the climate crisis. The report highlights the inadequacy of current processes for reducing such risks, since they focus on ‘managerialism’ and ‘proceduralism’. The report warns of increasing “climate apartheid” whereby affluent people and countries are treated more favourably, and urges human rights bodies to engage with climate change at a deeper level.

Implication & Opportunity

Current approaches to human rights issues have the tendency to take a piecemeal approach and evaluate each right as an individual case; hence, experts are calling for a more holistic and systems level view of global human rights. The report outlines how current methodologies insufficiently capture the relationship between human rights and climate change, leading to inadequate mechanisms to ensure food security, alleviate forced migration, disease and death, thereby potentially pushing more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030. The report identifies governmental leadership and private sector investments as key factors in combating “climate apartheid”, calling for deep structural changes of the world economy such as transitioning to a green, sustainable economy. It suggests that all changes should consider providing a stable safety net for workers that may temporarily lose their job during the transition process, and to decouple economic growth from emissions or resource extraction.


The report is not a scientific study but reflects the opinion of the special rapporteur and should be seen rather as an expert opinion rather than an academic study.


UNHRC. (2019). UN expert condemns failure to address impact of climate change on poverty. Retrieved from

The Guardian. (2019). Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive. Retrieved from