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Climate Rights and Remedies Project Research

Stream 1: Litigation


The first stream of the project will take a practical tack, looking at the possibilities for litigating climate-related cases before international and regional human rights bodies (specifically the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African human rights system). In light of ongoing efforts to litigate climate change-related claims before these bodies, this stream will not just provide a link between and a practical grounding for the first and third stream of the project, but should also improve the existing understanding of how a systemic issue such as global climate change can be tackled through human rights-related litigation. 

This first stream will be divided into two topics of interest. The first topic is a procedural one, examining the criteria for litigating climate change-related cases before the various bodies concerned. This includes questions about the identity of the respondent States – i.e. should cases be brought against individual States, against all main emitters, or against those States that have failed to meet their agreed emissions reduction targets? This in turn raises questions about the requirements on the exhaustion of domestic remedies. Furthermore, this should enable thinking about questions of jurisdiction and standing as well as questions of the nature of evidence used before these bodies (which could include research on extraterritorial and corporate human rights obligations). Further topics are how information deficits can be overcome, and how to ensure stakeholder participation and the democratic legitimacy of the outcomes. 

The second topic of interest is a substantive one, covering various issues such as the existence of obligations to protect (positive obligations) and the degree of risk of harm required in order to find a human rights violation in climate cases. Considerations of procedural obligations or due diligence standards and discrimination-related argumentation are also topics of this topic of interest. It should also encourage reflection on when the degree of harm required in order to find a violation has been reached, and whether human rights courts can hold States to particular soft law targets. Within this focus, reflection on what can be learned from domestic public interest litigation efforts is particularly encouraged, as is comparison of the different human rights bodies. From an environmental law perspective, regional and international human rights law can seek an understanding of the impossibility of correcting or undoing large-scale and irreversible impacts or catastrophes once they have occurred. Thus, we are interested in the lessons to be learned from the principles of prevention, precaution and due diligence, according to which it is preferable to prevent environmental damage before it occurs and action is required to avoid  damage. 

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