Negotiating by own standards? The use and validity of human rights norms in UN climate negotiations

Original Paper


Since its inception, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has been inclined to natural scientific and technocratic perceptions of climate change challenges and policy solutions. Furthermore, states have traditionally been depicted as the main subjects of international climate politics. Only in 2010, concrete references to human rights were incorporated into UN climate agreements. This has a double binding force: First, states thereby re-emphasize the principal validity of those standards that they have acknowledged—qua signature and/or ratification—as guiding their actions: the social and political rights that are captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two binding human rights covenants. Second, the incorporation of human rights norms into UN climate agreements officially and formally broadens the normative scope of negotiating and implementing these policies. However, after 2010, states have neither substantiated this engagement nor further built on it argumentatively. In contrast, human rights references are—again—mostly absent from states’ positioning in UNFCCC politics. In this article, we aim at explaining this empirical puzzle. In the first part, we elaborate our theoretical approach and carve out the functional, political and legal linkages between human rights and climate politics. Building upon participatory observation, expert interviews and analysis of primary and secondary documents, this will then be followed by explaining parties’ anew reluctance to further apply a human rights-based approach in climate politics.


Climate change UNFCCC Human rights International negotiations Linkages Frame alignment 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MünsterMünsterGermany
  2. 2.University of StirlingStirlingUK

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