Submission: Call for Inputs from the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights in the context of climate change

Ian Fry, Australian National University Professor and Tuvalu’s former ambassador for Climate Change for over 21 years, was appointed in May 2022 by the UN Human Rights Council, as the first Special Rapporteur on climate, following the overwhelming vote to recognize the Right to a Healthy Environment, in 2021.

Recently the Special Rapporteur called for inputs on the promotion of human rights in the context of climate change.The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the opportunity to make a submission.

Climate change is an urgent threat to humanity and to the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights. Threats to the environment are threats to everyone, and collaborative efforts at national, regional, and global levels are required for effective climate action.

Australia has dedicated climate legislation at a federal level and in four of its subnational jurisdictions (Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)). This legislation is focused primarily on emissions mitigation and does not address loss and damage or adaptation more broadly.

Australia does not have a tradition of integrating substantive human rights into legislation, relying mostly on the limited rights protections offered by the common law. At the federal level, legislation is required by the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 to be accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights (SCHR).

NSWCCL are engaged in ongoing campaigns for charters of human rights in NSW and at the Commonwealth level which implement all of Australia’s existing international human rights obligations and provide appropriate recourse for remedies to individuals.

To be effective, climate change legislation needs to centre consistency with human rights (including a right to a healthy environment) as a core and binding obligation upon administrative decision makers. Such an obligation needs to be enforceable, with the ability for judicial review to both ensure its enforcement and provide case law to define its scope.

The main issue in Australia is a woefully inadequate lack of human rights protections in domestic law. Outside the three jurisdictions with human rights acts (Queensland, Victoria and ACT), there is no ability for plaintiffs to make human rights-based arguments in most Australian courts including at a federal level.

Read our submission here.