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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Climate Change, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law


Climate change challenges the resiliency and integrity of social and legal systems worldwide.  Responding to climate change requires us to think systematically—and ambitiously—about how to engage the rule of law as a tool in efforts to limit the causes and consequences of climate change.  This Article highlights the important, but underexplored relationship between ongoing pressures on the rule of law and efforts to draw upon the rule of law to limit climate change.  It posits that the growth of right-wing populist, nationalist, and authoritarian movements worldwide puts pressure on the rule of law and imperils efforts to advance cooperation on climate change.  It then explores the relationship between the rule of law, climate change, and human rights and describes how, despite downward pressures on the rule of law, efforts to embrace and deepen the linkages between climate change and human rights law continue to progress at both the domestic and international level.  Ultimately, this Article argues that the rule of law is critical to addressing climate change, but the international rule of law is under pressure and even tentatively held, shared understandings of the rule of law are in question.  This uncertainty challenges the ability to leverage law, including human rights law, to achieve effective and equitable change in the climate context.

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