Climate Action and Human Rights

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Sun Oct 16 2022

Author: Guest contributor

Prof. Susan Harris Rimmer, an international human rights lawyer and the Director of the Griffith University Policy Innovation Hub, talks about how she has been addressing SDG13 as Climate Justice theme leader of the Griffith Climate Action Beacon. Prof. Rimmer is also one of the Guest Editors of Climate Action’s upcoming topical collection: Geographies of climate justice in Oceania.

How is your work addressing directly SDG13: Climate Action?
Call for papers © SpringerNature 2022

I am lucky to be part of a university that has brought the SDGs into the heart of our own Strategic Plan and measures our own progress rigorously. 

Launched in 2020, Griffith’s $5 million Climate Action Beacon conducts interdisciplinary research and collaborates on cross-sectoral practice to facilitate collective climate action on climate change. The Beacon’s Climate Ready Initiative is guided by an Australian-first board of experts who inform the development of new strategies, partnerships and investment for climate action. Projects in 2021 included the Climate Action Survey which will provide deep insights into what Australians think, feel and do about climate change. The Beacon has also worked extensively with state and local government partners on climate risk and associated issues. 

The Beacon works on the following questions:

  • What motivates climate action?
  • How do we transition to a zero-carbon, climate resilient future?
  • In tackling climate action, how do we ensure climate justice?

I am the Theme Leader for Climate Justice under the Beacon, and our work emphasises intersectional understandings of rights, and in particular we work on SDGs 5 on gender equality and SDG 16 on peace.  For example, in 2021, MSI Reproductive Choices issued a warning that more than 14 million women could lose access to contraception as climate change worsens living conditions around the world. This finding was additional to the research from the 26 countries where MSI operates that since 2011 an estimated 11.5 million women have had their access to contraception disrupted due to climate-related displacement (MSI 2021).

How do we develop a framework for climate action that protects the rights of the most vulnerable, reduces inequality and avoids estrangement, both within and beyond national borders during a time of rapid transition?

The third theme of the Climate Action Beacon seeks to develop the knowledge, leadership, capacity and responses to enable effective and just climate action throughout society focused on Climate Justice. This theme seeks to ensure that climate actions are fair, equitable and just; contributing toward the broader sustainable development goals (especially Goal 13B).  All states have the human rights duty to protect men and women, boys and girls in all their diversity from the harmful effects of the climate crisis, including displacement.  We begin with a focus on building the ability of communities and neighbourhoods to take action, in Queensland, in Australia, with our Pacific neighbours.

How can we redesign governance processes and reconceptualise key legal concepts so that human rights obligations, standards and principles can shape policies for climate mitigation and adaption and ensure accountability for climate commitments?

My work is globally informed but starts from the proposition that fair transitions start local. We wish to investigate ways to help communities take action to support:

  • their right to information about climate risks and to ensure the participation of citizens and non-citizens in responses;
  • seeking accountability for the duty of state actors to protect people within and outside their borders from climate impacts;
  • promoting the rights of vulnerable people in emergencies and increasing their dignity, agency and voice;
  • promoting the right to freedom of movement and mobility justice. How can we theorise a concept of mobility justice that would allow people to achieve a just climate transition?;
  • exploring the parameters of the right to protest and engage in climate advocacy;
  • create an agenda for urban climate justice;
  • rethinking concepts of loss and damage, risk, insurability, and intergenerational equity; and finally,
  • create a new right to a healthy environment and create rights for nature.

We are taking a deep dive on five climate justice issues through an IHRL and feminist lens– first, how to define the burden of loss and damage when the risks often fall more heavily on those least able to reduce or recover from them.  Second, we will explore the protection the rights of vulnerable people during increased natural disasters in Queensland and the region. Third, we will assess the need for mobility and asylum due to displacement inside Australia and throughout the region from climate impacts. Fourth, we will assess the ethical parameters for climate action and protest.  Fifth, we will focus on urban climate justice – looking at the politics and governance of ‘more than human’ cities and strategies for redressing inequalities through defending the urban commons and rights to sustainable, resilient, affordable housing and more.

We are also creating a new approach to policy-making that promotes intergenerational justice. Everywhen is designed to be a suite of policy products and thought-leadership pieces that help governments make better policy that requires demonstrable consideration of intergenerational equity over the long-term. It Is anticipated to include the development of:

  • A proposal to change cabinet submission processes to include an intergenerational impact statement (like current rural/regional impact statements, institutional impact statements, and so on), including development of an Intergenerational Impact Guide for preparing cabinet submissions.
  • Legislation based on the Welsh Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015.
  • Development of an intergenerational justice policy tool/checklist to inform a range of applications.

The name Everywhen was inspired by ideas of custodianship over multiple times and temporal realities. It is attributed to the anthropologist W.E.H Stanner who, in his 1953 essay ‘The Dreaming’ described the nature of time as it relates to Aboriginal belief systems, saying ‘One cannot “fix” The Dreaming in time, it was and is everywhen.”

How does open access publication play a role in terms of connecting the science with policymaking and responsible businesses?

Open access publishing seeks to encourage connection and collaboration among the climate movement and the international open community. We are seeking through our work on the Special Issue: Geographies of Climate Justice in Oceania with the Climate Action Journal to model rights promoting behaviour by publishing open access research.  As the theme Open for Climate Justice connotes:

“Sharing knowledge is a human right, and tackling the climate crisis requires the rapid exchange of knowledge across geographic, economic, and disciplinary boundaries.”

The Climate Justice Observatory is a Creative Commons endeavour supported by Uplink World Economic Forum set to launch on 10 December 2022 (UN Human Rights Day).  The site will bring together the human rights methodologies of observatories which provides trust-worthy information, data, long-form journalism and expert analysis to allow citizens to monitor issues, map problems in particular local places and crowd-source solutions, as well as providing resources for action.  We will partner with the Griffith Review to support long-form journalism in the area of climate justice.

A Climate Justice Observatory based in Queensland can also monitor and track development of laws, policies and justice interventions in this region that can add value to existing global resources, such as the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law. For example, the Observatory would track the Youth challenge to Clive Palmer’s proposed Galilee Coal Project in Queensland’s Land Court using the Queensland Human Rights Act 2019.

We will also review current progress in the UN system, including Sustainable Development Goal 13 on Climate Action from this region, also using IPCC reports and data.  For example, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) has ruled in early 2020 regarding Kiribati that governments must take into account the human rights violations caused by the climate crisis when considering deportation of asylum seekers.1  The Committee’s decision suggests that future claims might be successful where the evidence shows “the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights.” In May 2019, a group of eight islanders from four different Torres Strait islands made a complaint to the HRC against the Australian Government which was recently upheld.  The claim is supported by the Torres Strait’s leading land and sea council that represents the regions’ traditional owners, Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK) and is led by a UK law firm.2  

We also note that the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2019, urged by Vanuatu and a group of Pacific law students, noted in their final communique the proposal for a UN General Assembly Resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change.  We will track these kinds of international campaigns.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

The goal of my work is to help people take urgent climate action in their own communities that is based on human rights principles, and to feel a sense of hope and purpose.

How were you hoping that open access would help with achieving your goals?

Climate action, gender justice, peace advocacy – these are areas of work that can be overwhelming and challenging over the long term.  Open access for me is a human rights goal in itself but it also helps form communities that can share and bond.  And that is what we need.

1Mr Ioane Teitiota, a man from the Pacific nation of Kiribati, brought a case against the government of New Zealand at the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in February 2016 after authorities denied his claim of asylum as a ‘climate refugee.’ He was deported from New Zealand to Kiribati in September 2015.  Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand (advance unedited version), CCPR/C/127/D/2728/2016, UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), 7 January 2020, available at:,HRC,5e26f7134.html [accessed 9 June 2020]


Read more blogs and selected research collections in our SDG13 hub.

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Susan Harris Rimmer © SpringerNature 2022
About the author

Professor Susan Harris Rimmer is an international human rights lawyer and the Director of the Griffith University Policy Innovation Hub (appointed July 2020), and the Climate Justice theme leader of the Griffith Climate Action Beacon.  Sue has been named a Top Innovator for her project the Climate Justice Observatory with Uplink at the World Economic Forum and is a 2022 Fulbright Scholar. Susan is the co-editor of the Futures of International Criminal Justice (Routledge 2022, with Emma Palmer, Edwin Bikundo and Martin Clark), the Research Handbook for Feminist Engagement with International Law (Edward Elgar 2019, with Kate Ogg); and the author of Gender and Transitional Justice: The Women of Timor Leste (Routledge, 2010) plus over 40 refereed academic works. 


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