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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 GHLG 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?

Marlies Hesselman
Marlies Hesselman

Contact persons:

Marlies Hesselman, m.m.e.hesselman

David Patterson, d.w.patterson  

marlies and team
On 7 December 2018, GHLG 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, GHLG), Diarmid Campbell-Lundrum (WHO), Jeni Miller (Global Alliance on Climate and Health) and Vijay Sharma (RIHMR, India).
GHLG Report on 'The Right to Health and Climate Change'

Research outputs


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.

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
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, '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 & Lottie Lane (2017), 'Disasters and Non-State Actors: A Human Rights-Based Approach' Disaster Prevention and Management 26(5), pp. 526-539 (open access)

Marlies Hesselman, Comment on Draft CEDAW 36: Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction in a Changing Climate: A Right to Health Perspective (16 October 2017) Utrecht University/SIM, Netherlands.

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, Contours of a Human Right to Sustainable Energy services Access for All? (14 September 2017) Inter-University Legal Research Network Conference, Groningen.

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, International Human Rights Law and Disaster Risk Reduction: Evidence from International Human Rights Practice (1 July 2017) Reading University/Walker Institute, UK.

Marlies Hesselman, COP21 and the Right to Health: A Right to a Healthy Climate Deal? , Global Health Law Groningen Blog (9 December 2015).

Participation in the UN OHCHR Expert Meeting on Climate Change and Human Rights (6-7 October 2016, Geneva, Palais des Nations)

Marlies Hesselman, Energy poverty, climate change, and the right to health: international obligations to cooperate for clean cook stoves ? Global Health Law Groningen Blog, (14 October 2015).

Marlies Hesselman, ‘ Environmental Health’, ILA Committee on Global Health Law (13 March 2017, Graduate Institute for International Law, Geneva, Switzerland)

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.

Last modified:27 May 2020 1.30 p.m.