Blog.Dec 10, 2023

The link between human rights and climate change

Even before COP28 kicked off, the Conference of Parties has been ridden with controversy. The president for this year’s meeting is a major oil company CEO. This is a blaring reminder that those who have little to no role in driving climate change, are at the forefront of suffering from it. 

Brown woman with a smile, multicolour scarf over an off white sweater
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Radhika Gupta
Communications Manager,

Like the past few years, a major goal of the Conference of the Parties (COP) 28 is to reach a global agreement to phase out fossil fuels and stop the “shameful record of climate damage and human rights abuses. 

So long as climate change persists, the water crisis will deepen. The opposite is also true – until the water crisis is solved, climate change will worsen. A critical pathway to tackle the interlinked water-climate crises is the use of a human-rights based approach.  

Access to safe and clean drinking water and adequate sanitation is a human right recognized by the UN. Several other human rights hinge on ensuring the right to water.  

Says David Hebart-Coleman of SIWI, “Those who are most affected by climate change, have the right to participate in decision making surrounding water.” 

He adds that approximately 25% of the world’s land is traditional territory of Indigenous Peoples. As they continue to manage both land and water “many of these locations are critical sources of freshwater and benefit downstream communities.” 

SIWI has been working to support Indigenous Peoples to raise their profile in formal water policy processes. An outcome of the work is the report Yaa Heen Koosge: Indigenous Peoples and Water Wisdom. 

“Those who are most affected by climate change, have the right to participate in decision making surrounding water.”

David Hebart-Coleman, Senior Programme Manager, SIWI

We also caught up with Virgina Mariezcurrena, who is the focal point for SIWI’s work on Human Rights Based Approach. We asked her three questions: 

Who is responsible?

In general, it is the responsibility of governments to ensure the right to water. But all actors bear the duty of respecting rights, while some have the duty of protecting rights and making sure that things are not getting worse on the ground. The role of the private sector has been long discussed and is more prominent of late. 

How can the right be fulfilled?

One basic but very important step is awareness creation about the fact that people are entitled to have access to clean and safe drinking water. Another is advocacy towards the duty bearers to fulfill these rights. There is a process to fight for this right, that NGOs can support. 

What is the message for COP28?

We normally say that water is central to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals. My message to COP28 would be that if we put humans at the center of water issues, it helps us understand why water matters for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Follow SIWI to COP28

Join SIWI in a range of events, onsite and online, as we highlight water’s role in effectively addressing climate change. We are also the leading organizer of the Water for Climate Pavilion, where much of the water-related events will take place.

More about SIWI at COP28
Swirly water from above, with turquoise, blue and white shades. COP28 UAE logo