Presidential Task Force on Climate Change Justice and Human Rights

Download report >

Download media briefing >

Global climate change is a defining challenge of our time. It poses an effective obstacle to the continued progress of human rights, which translates directly into a worsening of the existing inequities that afflict a world already riven with vast inequality, poverty and conflict. Dramatic alterations to the planet’s climate system are already impacting on the world’s inhabitants and its natural environment, disproportionately affecting those who have contributed least to it and who are also, for a variety of reasons, least well placed to respond.

Yet the main contributors to climate change – those with the largest carbon footprints, living and working in the world’s wealthier regions – are, by virtue of their wealth and/or access to resources, most insulated from it. In addition to which, climate change will strain the ability of many states, especially the poorest among them, to uphold their human rights obligations.

In November 2012, an IBA Task Force on Climate Change Justice and Human Rights was established to address this fundamental justice concern and support the IBA in assessing the challenges to the current national and international legal regimes on climate change.

This high-level Task Force, chaired by David Estrin and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, and with invaluable contribution from Academic Advisor Stephen Humphreys, PhD, sets forth its analysis and recommendations through the Report, Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Change Disruption.


Read more about the report, Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Change Disruption  >


Click the banners below for more information on the Task Force, its aims, leadership and members.

The Task Force originated as the IBA’s response to the ‘New Justice Challenge for the IBA’, proffered by Mary Robinson, formerly President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the IBA Annual Conference 2012 in Dublin. There, Mary Robinson – who in 2014 became the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Change – introduced the concept of climate justice and proposed that the IBA convene a working group to provide leadership in shaping the global response to climate change.

Michael Reynolds, then newly elected IBA President, accepted the challenge, with the keen support of the newly elected IBA Vice-President, David W Rivkin, and Michael Greene, IBA Legal Practice Division (LPD) Chair, and in early 2013, established a high-level Task Force to address climate change justice and human rights.

At its broadest, climate change justice encapsulates rights and obligations spanning generations, across political entities, and implicates state, corporate and individual responsibilities. More practically, as described recently by the Mary Robinson Foundation, climate justice ‘links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly.’ To translate such an aspiration into concrete recommendations requires that actions be grounded in the certainties of climate science and the realities of international climate policy, and this was the project undertaken by the IBA Presidential Task Force, the results of which form the basis of the report, Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Disruption.

The Task Force adopted the following definition of climate change justice:

‘To ensure communities, individuals and governments have substantive legal and procedural rights relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and the means to take or cause measures to be taken within their national legislative and judicial systems and, where necessary, at regional and international levels, to mitigate sources of climate change and provide for adaptation to its effects in a manner that respects human rights.’


Chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), and David Estrin, Chair of the IBA Environment, Health and Safety Law Committee, together with three Vice-Chairs: Catherine M Amirfar; Conor Linehan and Roger R Martella, Jr, the Task Force was mandated to address the justice concerns posed by climate change and to support the IBA in assessing the challenges to the current national and international legal regimes on climate change.

Task Force members were also appointed, comprising prominent legal and human rights experts, experienced legal practitioners and a senior environmental jurist. They made important contributions by providing guidance on key issues that the report should address, and reviewing various components of report drafts in order to offer critiques and advice.

In October 2013 the Task Force arranged a Showcase Session on Climate Change Justice and Human Rights at the IBA Annual Conference in Boston and invited leading experts on climate change law, diplomacy, and human rights to speak. This session also provided an opportunity for IBA members to offer their advice on issues the Task Force report should address. The experts speaking at the session were: Michael B Gerrard, Director, Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School, New York; Bianca Jagger, Founder and Chair, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, London; Koh Kheng-Lian, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore; Professor John H Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, Professor of International Law, Wake Forest University School of Law, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; and Sir Crispin Tickell, author of Climate Change and World Affairs, former President, Royal Geographic Society, adviser on climate change to successive British Prime Ministers, diplomat, academic, London, England. Task Force Members offering comments at that session were Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun and Honourable Justice Brian Preston.

The resultant report, which sets forth the analysis and recommendations of the Task Force, will be launched at the IBA Annual Conference in Tokyo, 19–24 October 2014.


The Task Force was led by the IBA's Legal Practice Division (LPD).

Task Force Co-Chairs

David Estrin

Helena Kennedy

David Estrin

Chair IBA Environment, Health and Safety Law Committee; Partner/Certified Environmental Law Specialist, Gowling Lafleur Henderson, Toronto; Visiting Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School; Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation, International Law Research Program

Helena Kennedy QC

House of Lords; Co-Chair International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); Chair, JUSTICE, UK; Doughty Street Chambers, London; Principal, Mansfield College, Oxford

Vice Chairs

Catherine M Amirfar, Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York; IBA Arbitration Committee IBAArb40 Co-Chair; Vice-President & Executive Committee member, American Branch of the International Law Association
Conor Linehan, Regional Representative Europe, IBA Environment, Health and Safety Law Committee; Partner and Head of Environmental Law, William Fry, Dublin; Irish Government appointee to the International Panel of Environmental Law Expert Arbitrators, Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague. Adjunct Lecturer in Climate Change and Law, School of Law, Trinity College, Dublin
Roger R Martella, Jr, Secretary, IBA Environment, Health and Safety Law Committee; Partner, environmental practice group, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC; former General Counsel, US Environmental Protection Agency; former Chair, American Bar Association, International Environmental Law Committee; editor, International Environmental Law: The Practitioner’s Guide to the Laws of the Planet

Academic Advisor

Stephen Humphreys, PhD, Associate Professor of International Law, London School of Economics; editor, Human Rights and Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2009); formerly Research Director, International Council on Human Rights Policy, Geneva

Secretaries to the Task Force

Nwamaka Genevieve Ejebe, Associate, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP (New York)
Nicola Leslie, Associate, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP (London)
Carolina Henriquez-Schmidt, (former Secretary)

Task Force Members

Olanrewaju Fagbohun PhD, Director of Research, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies & Director, Environmental Law Research Institute, Lagos, Nigeria
Guy S Goodwin-Gill, Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford; Professor of International Refugee Law; Barrister, Blackstone Chambers, Temple, London
Tomoaki Ikenaga, Partner, Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, Tokyo
Koh Kheng-Lian, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore; Honorary Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law; Chair, APCEL Specialist Group on Adaptation to Climate Change
Jolene Lin, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong
Stuart Pimm, PhD, Doris Duke Chair of Conservation, Duke University, North Carolina, USA
Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Australia
The Honourable Justice Brian J Preston SC, Chief Judge of Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Adjunct Professor of Sydney Law School, University of Sydney, Australia
Anne Ramberg, Secretary General, Swedish Bar Association
Catherine Redgwell, Chichele Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford; Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; and Co-Director of the Oxford Geoengineering Programme of the Oxford Martin School
Peter J Rees QC, Thirty Nine Essex Street Chambers, London
Dinah L Shelton, Manatt/Ahn Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School, Washington, DC; member and President 2010–2013, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights; editor, The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law
Gauthier van Thuyne, Partner, head of Belgian and EU Environmental and Regulatory Law Group and co-head Human Rights Interest Group, Allen & Overy, Brussels; member of editorial board, Business and Human Rights Review (BHHR)


In this 2014 Tokyo Showcase Session, highlights of the Presidential Task Force report, 'Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Disruption' were presented and an impress line-up of speakers discussed the issue of climate justice and the role of the legal profession.

Achieving justice and human rights in an era of climate disruption is a truly global challenge that calls upon contributions by lawyers, the judiciary, government leaders and corporate leaders. IBA members are invited to engage at this showcase session with the Task Force members and world-leading experts to maximise opportunities to learn more and carry forward the Task Force findings and recommendations to the attention of appropriate governments and institutions within member countries, as well as at regional and international levels.

Preliminary remarks: Michael J Reynolds, President, International Bar Association

Keynote speakers

Al Gore, 45th US Vice President; co-recipient, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Chair, The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit devoted to solving the climate crisis; author of bestsellers including Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth, The Assault on Reason, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, and most recently, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.

Mary Robinson, United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change; President of Ireland, 1990 to 1997; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1997 to 2002; President, Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice.

Felipe Calderón, Chair, Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, former President of Mexico. The Global Commission and its flagship project, The New Climate Economy, were established by seven countries to help governments, businesses and society make better-informed decisions on these crucial issues. Its report was to be published in September, 2014.

Professor Shinya Murase, Professor Emeritus, Sophia University, Tokyo; National Judge of the Permanent Court of Arbitration; former Chair of the ILA Committee on the Legal Principles relating to Climate Change (2008-2014); Special Rapporteur, “Protection of the Atmosphere”, UN International Law Commission.

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected President of the Maldives island republic. A figurehead in the promotion of human rights and democracy in Islamic countries and an icon for international action to curb greenhouse gas emissions that threaten his and other island nations, as President he also started the Maldives on track to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2020. The UN awarded Nasheed with its ‘Champions of the Earth’ environment award in 2010, and in 2012, The Island President, a documentary feature film about Nasheed, was released in theatres worldwide.

Watch the Showcase Session >


The Report

The Task Force's report is available to download for free and will be launched at the IBA Annual Conference 2014 in Tokyo at the Showcase Session 'Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Disruption'. This wide-ranging and comprehensive report identifies problems and gaps in existing legal, human rights, trade and other institutional arrangements. It contains a series of new ideas and recommendations to governments and world institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, human rights bodies, international development financing agencies, as well as specific law and corporate governance reforms to aid in the prevention and mitigation of climate change impacts and protect the human rights of vulnerable communities.

The report's executive summary and recommendations are also available to download in Japanese >

Read more about the Report >

Related IBA films

Climate change: achieving justice and human rights, Showcase Session, IBA Annual Conference, Tokyo 2014

Mary Robinson delivers the George Seward Memorial Lecture, IBA Annual Conference Dublin 2012

Interview with Bianca Jagger, leading environmentalist campaigner

Interview with ClientEarth CEO James Thornton


Related Global Insight articles


Media Coverage

‘This ground-breaking report by a remarkable group of lawyers, judges and scholars from around the world draws on the weaknesses inherent in current domestic and international law to identify opportunities for reform by governments, UN bodies, the WTO, human rights tribunals, courts, corporations and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide justice to those most affected by climate change.’

Michael B Gerrard
Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice; Director, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School, New York

Five ways to achieve climate justice

12 January 2015

Mary Robinson: International law is coming up short in its response to climate change

9 January 2015

International law stays silent on the responsibility for climate change

11 December 2014

As the climate changes so must the law 

9 October 2014

Report: Climate Change Will Threaten Human Rights of Most Vulnerable 

3 October 2014

Climate Change Tops The Environmental Agenda 

1 October 2014    

Editorial: Lawyers filling the void 

29 September 2014    

IBA plan to set up international environment court 

25 September 2014    

IBA taskforce proposes changes to international law in pursuit of climate justice 

25 September 2014    

International lawyers’ group calls for international court on the environment – ‘Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our times

25 September 2014    

International lawyers’ group calls for international court on the environment

22 September 2014    

Heat Rising On Climate Change Inaction

22 September 2014    

International lawyers’ group calls for international court on the environment

22 September 2014    

'International Court on the Environment' needed for climate justice, lawyers say

22 September  2014    

International lawyers' group calls for international court on the environment

22 September 2014    

World needs an 'International Court on the Environment', International Bar Association says

22 September 2014    

IBA urges reform to climate change justice structures to protect human rights

22 September 2014    

Lawyers’ group calls for international court on climate change

22 September 2014    

International lawyers’ group calls for international court on the environment

22 September 2014    

Climate laws inadequate to protect human rights – new legal frameworks needed, states new IBA report

22 September 2014    

New IBA report seeks preventative, adaptive responses to climate change

22 September 2014