The impacts of climate change on Human and Non-Human Rights

5 December 2023
Professor Rosemary Lyster on the implications of Climate Change
The world is currently experiencing twin climate and biodiversity crises. Climate change impacts like drought, desertification, sea level rise, floods, cyclones, and bushfires are seriously impacting global human rights and the rights of non-humans.

My research career began focused on Energy and Climate Law looking at emissions reduction and renewable energy policies and regulations. An important issue in this field is the human right to access clean and affordable energy sources.

Since 2010, I have focused on climate disaster law as countries have acknowledged that they will not meet the goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees C, and preferably 1.5 degrees C, above pre-industrial temperatures.

The United Nations has warned in November 2023 that the world is on a path to 3 degrees C of warming.

In recent times, countries around the world have witnessed catastrophic floods, fires, cyclones, storm surges and an escalation in the loss of biodiversity.

For example, the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2022 confirms that: ‘much of nature has already been lost, and what remains is continuing to decline.’

In 2015, I developed a new area of legal research – Climate Disaster Law – with the publication of my book Climate Justice and Disaster Law with Cambridge University Press.

This book shows how human rights – including the rights to life, health, environment, dignity, housing, education, food, water, to name a few, are destroyed particularly during a climate disaster.

Even the sustainable development gains are overwhelmed. My Climate Disaster Law frameworks show the role that law can play at all stages of a disaster – prevention, response, reconstruction and compensation – and in ensuring procedural justice.

My research has also included book chapters and articles on the rights of climate displaced persons and compensation for the loss and damage suffered by communities during extreme weather events and disasters.

I have argued that the top 200 fossil fuel companies should be required to pay levies into an international Response Fund managed by institutions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to compensate communities in Least Developed Countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Professor Rosemary Lyster

Since 2019, my research has turned to consider the implications of climate disasters on non-humans. These implications are often not mentioned – as if they don’t matter. Yet in a single climate-induced disaster – the 2019-2020 Summer Bushfires in Australia – 3.3 billion animals died or were displaced and 100 million insects were killed.

Consequently, I am co-writing a new book entitled Multispecies Climate Justice, Disaster and Responsibility to be published by Edward Elgar in 2025. My co-authors are Professor Danielle Celermajer, The University of Sydney, and Dr Phillipa MacCormack, The University of Adelaide.

We are developing a unique legal theoretical framework for protecting the rights of non-humans. We are also considering the responsibilities of governments, courts, corporations, and society for protecting the rights of non-humans during the climate and biodiversity crises.

About Professor Rosemary Lyster

Professor Rosemary Lyster is the Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at The University of Sydney Law School.

Professor Lyster co-leads the Climate Disaster and Adaptation Cluster within the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI), which is a multidisciplinary initiative at the University.

Professor Lyster has been researching in the area of climate change for the past 28 years, including following closely the international climate change negotiations, and has published numerous books, book chapters and journal articles with prestigious publishers.

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