Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us Faculty of Law Research Centres of Expertise Groningen Centre for Health Law Onderzoeksprojecten Health determinants

Climate Change

smoking chimneys

Climate change presents a very serious contemporary health threat to people all over the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) list the health impacts of global climate change as "wide-ranging, diverse and overwhelmingly negative" . According to WHO estimates, climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths each year - e.g. from shifting patterns of disease; extreme weather events such as heat-waves and floods; or from the degradation of air quality, food and water supplies, and sanitation. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. A recent study suggests that even before the end of this century certain cities will experience wet bulb temperatures that makes human survival in those areas impossible.

While the concerns about climate change on food security, water security or migration seem often acknowledged, climate change also deserves to be viewed as a global health concern in its own right. Climate change negatively affects opportunities for health both directly - e.g. through increased exposure to heats, colds, floods, or altered disease patterns - and indirectly - by suddenly or slowly disrupting people's access to essential underlying determinants of health, such as food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy living environment (e.g. large scale disasters, desertification) . Adequate protection of human health requires effective and timely responses in terms of mitigation and adaptation, including as a matter of strong national and international legal protection and responses. Since the IPCC clearly warns about the physical limits to and dangers of focusing excessively on future adaptation strategies, mitigation seems a clear prime concern in meeting health concerns.

Under this topic, researchers of GCHL aim to explore and evaluate the legal regimes available for the protection of human health in the face of global climate change, including in particular, the international and regional human rights framework. However, also other (hard and soft) international legal instruments in this field are of prime importance, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Convention on Combatting Desertification, the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, or important international development agenda's such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, UN Habitat III's New Urban Agenda or the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Regionally, a range of instruments also merit closer attention for their relevance to protection of health and climate change, such as the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention).

What rights and obligations for the protection of health already exist in the face of climate change, for various different actors, but also, what are identifiable challenges, short comings and opportunities for greater protection?

From Analysis to Action. Climate Change Litigation: A Guide for Public Health Practioners (November 2023) endorsed by the Global Network for Academic Public Health (GNAPH), the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), Lancet Countdown, the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER), the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE) and the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA).

GCHL Report on 'The Right to Health and Climate Change'
marlies and team
On 7 December 2018, GCHL organized a Side-Event on the 'Right to Health and Climate Change' at COP24 of the United Nation Conference on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland. From left to right: Prof. Stefania Negri (University of Salerno), Marlies Hesselman (University of Groningen, GCHL), Diarmid Campbell-Lundrum (WHO), Jeni Miller (Global Alliance on Climate and Health) and Vijay Sharma (RIHMR, India).

Contact persons

Research outputs


GCHL & UK Faculty of Public Health, From Analysis to Action. Climate Change Litigation: A Guide for Public Health Practioners (November 2023 - PDF)
D. Patterson, M Hesselman et al (2022) Post COP26: legal action now part of public health’s environment and climate change toolbox, European Journal of Public Health 519-520

D. Patterson (2021) ‘The right to health and the climate crisis: the vital role of civic space’ Health and Human Rights Journal

M. Hesselman (2021) 'Climate change as a global health threat in International Climate Law and Human Rights Law, in Toebes et al, Global Health Law Disrupted: COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis (TMC Asser, Preadviezen No. 148) 87-130
M. Hesselman (2021) 'EU Climate Law and Human Rights' in Woerdman et al, Essential EU Climate Law(Edward Elgar, 2nd ed.) 259-292 (Google books).
M. Hesselman (2021) 'Domestic climate litigation’s turn to human rights and international climate law'in: Merkouris, Fitzmaurice and Brus (eds), Research Handbook on International Environmental Law(Edward Elgar, 2nd ed) 369-393.
M. Hesselman, 'Access to Disaster Risk Information, Early Warning and Education and Awareness: Implementing the Sendai Framework through International Human Rights Law' in Katja Samuel and Marie Aronsson-Storrier, International Law and Disaster Risk Reduction (Cambridge University Press 2019) 188-216.
M. Hesselman 'Gender and Health in the Context of Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change' (15 November 2017) Global Health Law Groningen Blog Post
Marlies Hesselman & Lottie Lane (2017), 'Disasters and Non-State Actors: A Human Rights-Based Approach' Disaster Prevention and Management 26(5), pp. 526-539 (open access)
Lottie Lane & Marlies Hesselman (2017) 'Governing Disasters: Embracing Human Rights Law in a Multi-Level, Multi-Actor Governance Sphere' , Governance and Politics 5(2), pp. 93-104 (open access)
Marlies Hesselman & Brigit Toebes, The Human Right to Health and Climate Change: A Legal Perspective , Global Health Law Groningen Research Paper (and Input to the Study of the UNOHCHR (31 October 2015) (
Marlies Hesselman, COP21 and the Right to Health: A Right to a Healthy Climate Deal? , Global Health Law Groningen Blog (9 December 2015).
Dug Cubie & Marlies Hesselman (2015) Accountability for the Human Rights Implications of Natural Disasters: A Proposal for Systemic International Oversight , Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights 33(1), 9-41.
Marlies Hesselman (2014) Regional Human Rights Regimes and Humanitarian Obligations in the Event of Disasters . In A. Zwitter, C. Lamont, H-J. Heintze, & J. Herman (Eds.), Humanitarian Action: Global, Regional and Domestic Legal Responses to Local Challenges. (pp. 202-227). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hesselman, M. (2013). Establishing a Full ‘Cycle of Protection’ for Disaster Victims: Preparedness, Response and Recovery according to Regional and International Human Rights Supervisory Bodies . Tilburg Law Review, 18(2), 106-132.


D. Patterson, M. Hesselman et al, '‘Future-proofing your human rights research: Climate change as a cross-cutting issue for human rights research' (26 September 2023)  Organisers Workshop for Netherlands Network of Human Rights Research
M. Hesselman,  'Strategic litigation on health, human rights and climate change' (16 June 2023) Conference on Strategic Litigation and Public Health, Liverpool
D. Patterson et al, Workshop: Climate crisis and public health: public health practitioners are key to successful litigation(Nov. 2022) European Journal of Public Health iii200-iii201
D. Patterson and A. Garde, "Building capacity to use legal tools to address climate change through a public health lens" (Nov. 2022)European Journal of Public Health iii473
M. Hesselman, 'Strategic Litigation, Human Rights and Health' (Nov. 2022) 14th European Public Health Conference (EUPHA)
M. Hesselman, 'Environmental Health, Climate and Pandemic Risk: Responding through Global Health' (Nov. 2022) Panel organised at NEEDS2022 Conference, Copenhagen
M. Hesselman, 'Climate change and courts' (22 April 2022)  Sabin Center/UNEP Annual Conference on Global Climate Litigation, New York/online
Marlies Hesselman, 'The Right to Health and Climate Change: Human Rights Based Approaches to Transformative Climate Adaptation (7 December 2018) Presentation at Side Event UNFCCC COP 24, Katowice, Poland
Marlies Hesselman, 'Regulating Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution in International Law' (3 July 2018) Lecture at Jean Monnet Summer School, Climate Change, Health and Environment, University of Salerno
Marlies Hesselman, Contours of a Human Right to Sustainable Energy services Access for All? (14 September 2017) Inter-University Legal Research Network Conference, Groningen.
Marlies Hesselman, International Human Rights Law and Disaster Risk Reduction: Evidence from International Human Rights Practice (1 July 2017) Reading University/Walker Institute, UK.
Participation in the UN OHCHR Expert Meeting on Climate Change and Human Rights (6-7 October 2016, Geneva, Palais des Nations)
Marlies Hesselman, ‘ Environmental Health’, ILA Committee on Global Health Law (13 March 2017, Graduate Institute for International Law, Geneva, Switzerland)

Last modified:14 November 2023 09.26 a.m.