In July UN's Human Rights Council (OHCHR) passed Resolution 50/9 stating that climate change threatens the human right to food; in September, UN’s 76th General Assembly passed Resolution 300 recognizing “the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right”. On Nov 29, 18 countries presented a draft Resolution to the International Court of Justice seeking an advisory opinion:
Having regard to the applicable treaties, including the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and rules of general international law, including the duty of due diligence, the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principle of prevention of significant harm to the environment, and the duty to protect and preserve the marine environment,
(1) What are the obligations of States under the above-mentioned body of international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment for present and future generations;
(2) What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States which, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to:
(a) Small island developing States and other States which, due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change?
(b) Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change?
These moves have no “teeth” by themselves – they don’t create legal obligations per se. However, they do create some sort of salience and influence legal arguments around the globe, providing lawyers and politicians with arguments in legal suits.
For instance, in August Brazilian Supreme Court stated that the Paris Agreement has, in Brazilian legal system, the status of a human rights treaty – which, given the court’s precedents, implies it is placed higher than statutory law (though lower than the Constitution). This allowed the court to condemn the federal government for inaction in protecting the Amazon forest.
So, my question is: would it make sense to invoke a similar rationale in matters of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or maybe risky reserch - like gain-of-function research?
I partially agree. This "human rights inflation" has been a powerful critique against legal activism in jurisprudence. I'm afraid UN should be way more specific concerning what could be retarded as a violation of such rights. On the other hand, if one truly believed that, e.g., nuclear weapons proliferation risks leading to a global catastrophe, then why couldn't one say that it risks violating human rights, too - just like, e.g., failing to deter torture? It's certainly not a matter of impact... is it a matter of probability?