Advisory Opinion (OC-23/17) – Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Climate Change Litigation
Human Rights Inter-American human rights system

On 7 February 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR or Court) published an Advisory Opinion and explained that “[t]his Opinion constitutes one of the first opportunities this Court has had to address, in an extended manner, the state obligations that arise from the need to protect the environment under the American Convention[.]”

The Court addressed two preliminary issues to provide context and to provide the foundation for its opinion: The interrelationship between human rights and the environment; and the human rights affected by degradation to the environment, including the right to a healthy environment.

In addressing these issues, not only did the Court refer to documents of the Organization of American States and review its own jurisprudence, but it also looked to decisions and other statements or reports by other human rights bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, and experts such as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

The Court made it clear that the right to a healthy environment is a fundamental human right; that degradation of the environment, including adverse impacts of climate change, affects the enjoyment of this fundamental human right and others; and, that States have an obligation to ensure that their actions (and the actions of those under their effective control) do not impact the enjoyment of these fundamental rights – including the rights of those living outside the State’s own borders.