Main Article Content

Distributive justice and human rights in climate policy: the long road to Paris

Idowu Ajibade


The Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 countries, is the first global climate change instrument to explicitly reference human rights as a guiding principle. The treaty does not expound on the implications of climate change for human rights but the fact that it calls on State Parties to respect human rights when combating climate change shows a significant improvement in international thinking and acceptance of the linkages between human rights and climate change. Indeed, this is no mean feat. The journey to Paris has been a long and arduous process, especially for the broad coalition of indigenous people, gender, human rights, environmental and climate justice groups that worked tirelessly to bring the issue to global focus. My goal in this article is to explore the implications of a human rights clause in the Paris Agreement. Does it carry any legal or political weight? Are State Parties likely to operationalize it? In what ways can they enforce this part of the Agreement? To answer these questions, this article traces the historical account of the connections between human rights and climate change within the United Nations system and examines issues of equity and distributive justice in international climate change frameworks such as the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. The article expounds on opportunities for integrating human rights-based approaches into national and international climate policy and concludes on the need for further integration of both issues in future research and treaty negotiations.

Keywords: Climate change, human rights, justice, policy, Paris Agreement