The Right to Health and the Climate Crisis: The Vital Role of Civic Space

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Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its protocols, states have legal obligations to address the climate crisis. The principle of participation is increasingly acknowledged as central to the protection and promotion of human rights, including the right to health. This paper explores states’ obligations to address the climate crisis—and concomitant health crises—from a right to health perspective. The right to health lens provides a valuable opportunity for engaging diverse civil society constituencies in the response to the climate crisis. However, civic space must be protected if these actors are to participate meaningfully. The climate crisis discourse has lacked an explicit recognition of the interconnected nature of the right to health, environmental degradation and climate change, and civic space. There is also concern that restrictions on civic space will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic. While the public health community is an important constituency in the design and implementation of laws, policies, and programs to address climate change, the human rights literacy of this community remains to be strengthened. This paper addresses these lacunae within the context of the right to health as enshrined in United Nations human rights treaties and related international law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-120
Number of pages12
JournalHealth and Human Rights
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2021


  • human rights
  • climate change
  • civic space

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