Drishtikon: Climate Change and Disability: International Legal Framework

The Sangyan
8 min readJan 26, 2022

People with Disabilities get disproportionately affected[1] not merely by Climate Change but furthermore by the impacts of the measures taken (and/or not taken) in response to Climate Change[2] in social, economic, and political ways. While women, indigenous peoples, and youth have successfully become part of discussions around Climate Action, the plight of persons with disabilities has largely gone unnoticed and unaddressed, even at the global level, for a long.[3]

With time, international human rights and legal regimes, in their endeavour to protect the rights of the person with disabilities, identified this phenomenon, mainstreamed the conversation around it, and came up with legal instruments for disability-inclusive Climate Action for a sustainable future for the community that makes up an estimated 15 percent of the global population.[4] This article summarizes the international legal instruments protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

‘Millennium Development Goals’ (2000) failed to recognize the intersectionality between climate change and disability. Even the ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ (2008) doesn’t elaborate on the relationship and the impact that Climate Change has on People with Disabilities in any explicit terms as the convention restricted itself with merely mentioning natural disasters in this respect.[5]

However, the scenario changed with the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) which succeeded the MDGs in 2016. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sought to promote the capability of the disability community among other marginalized communities in order to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.[6]

Further, the international environment regime also started taking, Person with Disabilities, as a key stakeholder to the whole Climate Action discourse, consequently, commitments were made to mitigate and adapt the adverse effects of Climate Change on People with Disabilities.

The preamble to the 2010 Cancun Agreements notes the “resolution 10/4 of the United Nations Human Rights Council on human rights and climate change, which recognizes that the adverse effects of climate change have a range of direct and indirect implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights and that the effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population that are already vulnerable owing to geography, gender, age, indigenous or minority status, or disability.”[7]

Article 7 of the Cancun Agreements (2010) also recognizes the “need to engage a broad range of stakeholders at the global, regional, national and local levels, be they government, including subnational and local government, private business or civil society, including youth and persons with disability, and that gender equality and the effective participation of women and indigenous peoples are important for effective action on all aspects of climate change.”[8]

Further, Article 7 (iii) of the 2012 Doha COP acknowledges the further work to advance the understanding of and expertise on loss and damage, which includes, inter alia, “How loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change affects those segments of the population that are already vulnerable owing to geography, gender, age, indigenous or minority status, or disability, and how the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage can benefit those segments of the population.”[9]

2013 Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (Loss and Damage Mechanism) also highlighted the vulnerability of People with Disabilities within the international climate change agreements.[10]

The preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change acknowledges that “climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”[11]

The UN Climate Resolution accentuated the protection of disability rights by adopting a disability-inclusive approach in the Climate Action programme, policies, and strategies.[12] The resolution also echoes the principle of “nothing about us, without us” with respect to Climate Action.

In 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 41/21[13], published its report highlighting increased climate risks on a person with disabilities including threats to their health, food security, adequate housing, water and sanitation, livelihoods and decent work, and human mobility.[14] The Report highlights the fact that people with disabilities are more likely to experience the effects of climate change differently and more intensely than others owning to discrimination, marginalization, and other social and economic factors in respect to climate displacement, poverty, and other aspects of living a dignified life.[15]

The Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also calls on states to uphold the rights of people with disabilities while developing climate action policies and to ensure their meaningful, informed, and effective participation during the process.[16] The Report examines the “impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities and the related human rights obligations and responsibilities of States and other actors, including the elements of a disability-inclusive, human rights-based approach to climate change policies” as well as provide recommendations to the States and other stakeholders for a disability-inclusive Climate Action plans and policies.[17]

The Panel Discussion pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 41/21 provided a summary of the good practices and learnings in the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in respect to the adverse impact of climate change.[18]

The UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) works on integrating the institutional and operational mandates to facilitate inter-agency collaboration and joint programming on disability-inclusive development.[19] UNPRPD MDTF involves six UN agencies (UNDP, OHCHR, UNICEF, WHO, ILO, and UN DESA)[20] as disability inclusion can’t be approached independently and needs to be integrated across all policies and programmes.[21]

The UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) provides the foundation for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion. It enables the UN system to support the implementation of the ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ and other international human rights instruments, as well as the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Agenda for Humanity, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.[22] It functions as a standard towards achieving transformative change for people with disability by creating a policy and accountability framework to assess progress and accelerate change on disability inclusion.[23]

Article 23 of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy elaborates its strategy of intersectionality, “The organizations will take an intersectional approach to address the structural and dynamic consequences of the interaction between multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including by taking into consideration all conditions that can create a substantively distinct life experience for persons with disabilities, based on factors such as sex, age, gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, class, and other grounds.”[24]

Disability Inclusion is “achieved when persons with disabilities meaningfully participate in all their diversity, when their rights are promoted, and when disability-related concerns are addressed in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”[25] In this respect, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines set forth the sine qua non measures that humanitarian actors must implement in order to effectively determine and respond to the needs and rights of persons with disabilities who are at paramount risk during a humanitarian crisis.[26]

[1] Resolution on Climate Change and the Rights of People with Disabilities, Human Rights Council, 9 July 2019, A/HRC/41/L.24, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrc41_climate_change_and_disability.pdf> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[2] The impact of climate change on the rights of persons with disabilities, Available at <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/HRAndClimateChange/Pages/PersonsWithDisabilities.aspx> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[3] Cara Schulte & Isaac Gazendam, UN Climate Resolution Emphasizes Protection of Disability Rights, Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/15/un-climate-resolution-emphasizes-protection-disability-rights> Accessed on 29th December 2021.

[4] Disability Inclusion, Available at <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability#1> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[5] Article 11 on Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008), Available at < https://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf>.

[6] United Nations (2017) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 6th July 2017, Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/71/313, Available at <https://ggim.un.org/documents/a_res_71_313.pdf>.

[7] The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. Available at: <https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf>.

[8] The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. Available at <https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf>.

[9] Report of the Conference of the Parties on its eighteenth session, held in Doha from 26 November to 8 December 2012, Available at: <https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/docs/2012/cop18/eng/08a01.pdf>

[10] Sarah L. Bell, Seeking a disability lens within climate change migration discourses, policies and practices, Disability and Society. 35 (4): 682–687, Available at <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09687599.2019.1655856>.

[11] Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2015), Available at: <https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf> Accessed on 29th December 2021.

[12] Cara Schulte & Isaac Gazendam, UN Climate Resolution Emphasizes Protection of Disability Rights, Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/15/un-climate-resolution-emphasizes-protection-disability-rights> Accessed on 29th December 2021.

[13] Resolution on Climate Change and the Rights of People with Disabilities, Human Rights Council, 9 July 2019, A/HRC/41/L.24, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrc41_climate_change_and_disability.pdf> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[14] Cara Schulte, People with Disabilities Needed in Fight Against Climate Change, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/28/people-disabilities-needed-fight-against-climate-change> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[15] Cara Schulte, People with Disabilities Needed in Fight Against Climate Change, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/28/people-disabilities-needed-fight-against-climate-change> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[16] Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 April 2020, A/HRC/44/30, Para 40 (b), 41, 46 and 61, Available at <https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/30> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[17] Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 April 2020, A/HRC/44/30, Para 40 (b), 41, 46 and 61, Available at <https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/30> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[18] Panel discussion on promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22th December 2020, A/HRC/46/46, Available at <https://undocs.org/A/HRC/46/46> Accessed on 26th January 2022.

[19] UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Available at <https://unprpd.org/> Accessed on 24th January 2022.

[20] UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Available at <https://www.internationaldisabilityalliance.org/UNPRPD> Accessed on 24th January 2022.

[21] Asako Okai, Realising Disability Inclusion within the UN system: New UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, Available at <https://www.undp.org/speeches/realising-disability-inclusion-within-un-system-new-un-disability-inclusion-strategy> Accessed on 24th January 2022; Implementing the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, Available at <https://www.who.int/activities/implementing-the-un-disability-inclusion-strategy> Accessed on 25th January 2022.

[22] United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, Available at <https://www.un.org/en/content/disabilitystrategy/> Accessed on 24th January 2022; UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, Available at <https://unrcca.unmissions.org/un-disability-inclusion-strategy-0> Accessed on 25th January 2022.

[23] Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Why the new UN Disability Inclusion Strategy is an opportunity for ITU, Available at <https://news.itu.int/new-un-disability-inclusion-strategy-opportunity-for-itu/> Accessed on 24th January 2022.

[24] United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, Available at <https://www.un.org/en/content/disabilitystrategy/assets/documentation/UN_Disability_Inclusion_Strategy_english.pdf> Accessed on 24th January 2022.

[25] Glossary, Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD): legal frameworks guiding inclusive humanitarian action and guidance for CRPD reporting, Available at <https://www.internationaldisabilityalliance.org/sites/default/files/article-11-of-the-crpd-legal-frameworks-guiding-inclusive-humanitarian-action-reporting-guidance_final-version.pdf> Accessed on 25th January 2022.

[26] IASC Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, 2019, IASC Task Team on inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, Available at <https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/2020-11/IASC%20Guidelines%20on%20the%20Inclusion%20of%20Persons%20with%20Disabilities%20in%20Humanitarian%20Action%2C%202019_0.pdf> ; < https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-task-team-inclusion-persons-disabilities-humanitarian-action/documents/iasc-guidelines> Accessed on 25th January 2022.

Abhishek Kumar, NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellow on Disability.

The author can be reached at: abhishek.ncpedp@gmail.com

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The Sangyan

Law. Environment. Disability | Curator ~ Adv. Abhishek Kumar | Working on the 'Impact of Climate Change on Persons with Disabilities' | thesangyan.in | 🇮🇳 |