Human rights and climate change symposium

9th human rights and science symposium

The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy, is delighted to host and co-organise the 9th human rights and science symposium, on this occasion human rights and climate change, as part of a series managed by the Human Rights Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity, as it already affects temperatures, hydrologic conditions, ecosystem functioning, and agricultural productivity in many regions. These impacts constitute a serious interference with the exercise of fundamental human rights, such as the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and an adequate standard of living. Most vulnerable groups whose fundamental rights are already at risk are particularly affected. Therefore, we must embed human rights discussions in our responses to climate change. More conversation is needed that connects human rights and climate change, both in academic and research circles and amongst the wider public, to enhance climate justice and to strengthen climate resilience. The Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Human Rights Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina continue to contribute to global thinking on this matter.

During the symposium, experts from the fields of science, politics and society will discuss how climate change impacts human rights and what measures are possible and needed to strengthen the human rights of those affected. We will look to address implications for climate change research and look forward to welcoming an international audience to interactive sessions with keynote speakers and panellists. This symposium occurs over two days:

DAY 1 | Effects of Climate Change on Human Rights:

Effects of Climate Change on Human Rights:

Dr David R. Boyd

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

We are living in a climate emergency, as confirmed by the latest IPCC report. Scientists are calling for rapid, systemic and transformative changes. Yet despite three decades of commitments under the UNFCCC, emissions continue to rise. Environmental law has failed, so there is an increased reliance on human rights law in an effort to hold governments and businesses accountable. What is the progress thus far from using a rights-based approach, what is the potential, and what problems might arise?

Professor Tahseen Jafry

Director, Centre for Climate Justice, Glasgow Caledonian University

The world has seen a dramatic increase in climate-related disasters over the last decades and the implications for climate-induced migration are clear.

The most common threats are flooding, natural disaster, heatwaves in the global south but the trend is changing with impacts being felt in the global north too. These impacts are resulting in people being left distraught and broken. The focus of this talk is centred around ‘going beyond repairing damaged infrastructure to repairing people and restoring their human rights’.

Professor Dr Gabriele Hegerl FRSE, Member of Leopoldina

Professor of climate system science, University of Edinburgh

Climate change has already significantly changed the climate in many regions and is expected to continue to do so, and more so if we fail to strongly limit carbon emissions. These changes have already lead to increase risk of extreme events and to changes away from climate envelopes experienced by society. Tropical regions are expected to show higher temperatures, sometimes in ranges that are dangerous to human life, and recent wildfire events have led to dangerous levels of air pollution. Fire and floods have also killed people and destroyed settlements. In Arctic regions, climate change including in sea ice may affect both wildlife and the culture of indigenous populations.

Dr Leslie Mabon

Lecturer in environmental systems, the Open University, Young Academy of Scotland member

As well as limiting the extent and severity of climate change through emissions reductions, countries also have an obligation to plan for adapting to the climate impacts society is already locked into. In this contribution, I argue that ensuring human rights through climate adaptation has been a critical but under-studied area for Scotland and other temperate locations globally. I argue that to safeguard a right to a healthy environment, planning needs to start now for the more contentious aspects of climate adaptation that lie ahead (and are already happening globally), such as managed retreat or planned relocation of communities. Conversely, I also suggest the adaptation challenge offers significant potential to support the right to fair and decent work, by upscaling construction and nature-based interventions that have the potential to reduce harm.

Day 2 | Responses to the Human Rights Implications of Climate Change:

Andrew Gilmour

Executive Director Berghof Foundation

There is growing (but still not widespread) recognition that climate change is a significant driver of conflict in many parts of the world. At the same time, the threat to human rights from climate change is monumental. It is essential that peace-builders and climate experts work more closely together. Even more importantly, environmentalists and human rights activists must recognise that they face a common threat and would do far better to cooperate more than in the past. There are some encouraging signs of progress, and it is now essential to build on that.

Professor Dr Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann

Director Department of Environmental Medicine, Medical Faculty, Augsburg

Our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. This not only has impacts on the planet but also on human health. The effects of climate change will continue to disrupt the basic requirements for health such as clean water, clean air, adequate food and will furthermore exacerbate underlying social, economic, and ecological factors that cause illness and premature death. The sequels of climate change should not be considered in isolation but also other factors of environmental change such as pollution, biodiversity loss and land-use change need to be included. Heat exhaustion, ragweed asthma, tiger mosquitoes – the effects of the global climate and environmental crisis are increasingly affecting our health. Allergies are on the rise, new pathogens are spreading, more and more people are developing fears in the face of changes in their environment. To ignore the effects of anthropogenic climate change would hence not only be disastrous for the planet but also have wide-ranging and complex problems for human health.

Professor Alan Miller

Practice in Human Rights, University of Strathclyde

Elaboration of the scope and scale of human rights implications of climate change which present it as the greatest 21st Century threat to the enjoyment of human rights. Exploration at international and national levels of how current and potential responses to climate change offer strategic opportunities for transformative human rights-based approaches towards effectively addressing the climate crisis. Demonstrated by such examples as global mobilisation of youth for “climate justice” including inter-generational justice, “debt for climate” as climate justice demands of developing countries and the groundswell demand of global civil society and UN member states for the UN to enshrine the “right to a healthy environment”. Placing Scotland within this global context with reference to the forthcoming Human Rights Bill which will include a “right to a healthy environment”.

Professor Dr Christian Baatz

Professor of Climate Ethics, Sustainability and Global Justice, Kiel University, Germany

Climate change threatens the exercise of key Human Rights such as the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to property. At a minimum, people have a moral entitlement to be protected from such threats. Current policies and actions grossly violate this entitlement. Especially those who have contributed very little to climate change but are or will be severely impacted by its effects are thus morally entitled to support in adapting to changing by climatic conditions. The more greenhouse gas emissions a country or individual emits and the wealthier she is, the larger her responsibility is to provide this support and to fight the causes of climate change.

Bennett Collins

Deputy Director and Co-Founder, the Third Generation Project, St Andrews University.

Various organisations that purport to be working towards climate justice use the language of ‘resilience’ to describe people and communities on the frontlines of climate change. However, resilience to many experiencing the brunt of climate change is interpreted as the ability to endure injustice through a paternalist development lens.

This talk seeks to question the current direction of mainstream climate justice discourse in the West and explore how governmental and Third sectors define ‘justice’ and whether they are greenwashing the status quo.



Thursday October 28th - Friday October 29th, 2021