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ClientEarth Communications

15th March 2024

Environmental justice
Rule of law
Climate accountability

What is the Chile and Colombia Inter-American Court of Human Rights initiative?

Chile and Colombia have requested an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). They are seeking clarification on what the obligations are for States to respond to the climate emergency within the frame of human rights law.

What is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR)?

Set up in 1979, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is based in Costa Rica, with a founding purpose of interpreting and applying the American Convention on Human Rights, a treaty ratified by members of the Organisation of American States. Since its founding, 20 states have accepted its jurisdiction.

What is an advisory opinion?

An advisory opinion is a legal clarification is provided on points and questions of law to the UN or a specialised agency by an international court, in accordance with Article 96 of the UN Charter.

What advisory opinion are Chile and Colombia asking the IACHR for?

In January 2023, Chile and Colombia requested an advisory opinion from the IACHR on the impacts of climate change on human rights, as guaranteed under the American Convention. The request acknowledged the human rights effects of the climate crisis, highlighting in particular the vulnerability of communities and ecosystems in Latin America. The two countries flagged the need for regional standards that would accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis.

Inter American Court on Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica
Why is this action being taken?

The scientific evidence is clear: the effective enjoyment and realisation of human rights is adversely affected by climate change. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contribute to climate change and cause foreseeable harms to human rights. So, to prevent these foreseeable harms, States must reduce GHG emissions, and also regulate business actors – because measures taken by States can only be effective if business actors, who are huge contributors to climate change, are regulated. States need to focus on deep, rapid and sustained emissions reductions over greenwashing, unproven and harmful technologies. 

Both Chile and Colombia are experiencing the consequences of the climate emergency, including droughts, floods, landslides and fires. These environmental problems also occur throughout the Americas, and have a significant impact on human rights, in particular the rights of children, women and environmental defenders.

The effects of the climate crisis are being disproportionately felt by vulnerable communities in several countries in the Americas.

What could a positive advisory opinion mean for climate law?

This action could have major knock-on effects in terms of the understanding of countries’ obligations around climate-harming emissions and human rights. It would open up the possibility that climate commitments legally need to be enforced.

Domestic and international courts are increasingly being asked to define the exact extent and nature of state obligations to prevent climate change. And as climate change impacts become clearer and come to bear more heavily on the most vulnerable, we are likely to see courts increasingly taking this into account.

How is ClientEarth involved?

In 2023 we submitted an amicus briefing to the IACHR on this action, as the Court allows for NGO participation in both the written and oral stage.

What happens next?

The IACHR confirmed it had received our written submission and we are waiting to be informed of the hearing schedule.

More on international court actions