Human rights, climate change and intergenerational equity

The long-term consequences of our past and current greenhouse gas emissions represent a significant injustice to children and future generations, who will bear the brunt of climate change despite having contributed little to its causes. The impacts of climate change will interfere with the enjoyment of a range of human rights including the rights to health, housing, food and water, and cultural rights of First Nations peoples. These rights are protected in human rights law, both internationally and within Australian jurisdictions.

Increasingly, human rights law has been used in litigation to challenge new fossil fuel projects and demand greater action from governments on climate change. For example, in the Waratah Coal v Youth Verdict case, a group of young people successfully used the Queensland Human Rights Act to challenge the approval of a new coal mine. Around the same time, a group of Torres Strait Islanders were successful in a challenge against Australia in the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Among other things, the Committee found that Australia had failed to protect their right to transmit their culture and language to their children and to future generations.

This program of work explores the application of human rights law to climate change, with a particular focus on the rights of children and future generations. It draws on theories of intergenerational equity and principles of human rights law to explore ways in which children and future generations can be better protected.

The research capitalises on the strong track record in climate change research within the Environmental and Social Governance Research Group. Associate Professor Bridget Lewis has published widely on human rights-based approaches to climate change, and her recent work has focused particularly on future generations and children. Research collaborations within the group have also considered gender within the climate regime, climate justice in the Global South, climate displacement and disaster response, and human rights within the renewable energy transition.

A key output of current research will be Associate Professor Lewis’s forthcoming book, entitled Environmental Rights for Future Generations, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Chief Investigator

Partner Investigators



Climate change protest