Climate change: UN expert welcomes historic Paris Agreement but calls on States to scale up efforts to meet the 1.5 °C target


GENEVA (21 April 2016) –The signing of the Paris Climate Agreement scheduled for 22 April is “a historic step towards ensuring that the fight against climate change takes into account its effects on human rights”, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment John Knox said. He urged States to seize the moment to show their full commitment to keeping the increase in global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius.  


“The Paris Agreement represents a major achievement for the world, not least because it recognises that respect for human rights is integral to addressing climate change,” Mr. Knox said. “For the first time, a global environmental agreement explicitly mentions human rights,” the expert noted.

The Paris Agreement, adopted on 12 December 2015, calls on its parties to respect and promote their human rights obligations when taking action to address climate change.  The Agreement also highlights human rights issues that are particularly affected by climate change, including the right to health and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children and persons with disabilities, as well as gender equality and intergenerational equity.

“The Paris Agreement’s target of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, is an excellent beginning,” the expert stated.  “This target would help the world avoid devastating consequences for the ability of the people of the world to enjoy their rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, housing and many others.”  

“Unfortunately, the commitments pledged by Governments to date are insufficient to meet this global target,” Mr. Knox added.

According to UNEP, even full implementation of the Governments’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) would lead to emission levels in 2030 that will likely cause a global average temperature increase of well over 2°C, and quite possibly over 3°C.

Therefore, the expert stressed, “Even if they meet their current commitments, States will not satisfy their human rights obligations.”  He underscored that “From a human rights perspective, it is necessary not only to implement the current intended contributions, but also to strengthen those contributions to meet the target set out in article 2 of the Paris Agreement.”

The statement by Mr. John Knox has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz; on the right to food, Ms. Hilal Elver; on the right to health, Mr. Dainius Pûras; on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller; on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar; on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Dubravka  Šimonoviæ; on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. Philip Alston; Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Ms. Elzbieta Karska; on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Mr. Bahame Nyanduga.

A high-level signing ceremony, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will take place on 22 April 2016 in New York, US. The Agreement will then be open for signature until 21 April 2017. The agreement will enter into force when joined by at least 55 countries, accounting for at least 55% of global emissions.

The Paris Agreement signature ceremony can be viewed here:  

The UN Human Rights Council appointed Professor John Knox in 2012 to serve as Independent Expert, and reappointed him in 2015 as Special Rapporteur, on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Council requested Mr. Knox, a professor of international law at Wake Forest University in the United States, to clarify the application of human rights norms to environmental protection, and to identify best practices in the use of human rights obligations in environmental policy-making. Learn more, visit:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For earlier joint statements by the Special Procedures on climate change, please go to: