Using civil and human rights to mitigate climate change

Rugilė Zmitrevičiūtė

Activism and civil action are crucial in the climate change context. By expressing and using such human rights as right to assembly, right to freedom of speech, and also executing civil rights, a real change can be made. Climate change activism is becoming more emotional and it shows that people started to understand that climate change is not just a practical problem that should be solved but more of a life-death question. Environmental activists are involved on a very personal level and rather than observing the natural world from afar and being on top of it, they feel a part of it. [1] In this article a few examples of an effective human and civil rights execution and their meaning for climate change will be discussed.

Hold businesses accountable. Businesses and large corporations are known for using greenwashing (when more money is spent on sustainability marketing instead of actual sustainability in the company). Also, companies sometimes pass over the responsibility to the consumers, even though their impact on climate change is tremendous. According to the Carbon Disclosure Project 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in the past twenty years can be tracked down to 100 fossil fuel producers. [2]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that fossil fuels (coal and oil being most influential) are the main cause of global warming and in 2018, 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels and their industry. [3] Therefore - students in the UK took action. The Fossil Free campaign was launched by People&Planet (largest student network in the UK) and the main goal of it is to get public institutions to stop using fossil fuels. This way it is expected to do the damage for fossil fuel companies. Fossil Free believes that it is unfair to profit from something that is destroying the planet. Already 60% of UK universities have made some form of commitment to extract themselves from fossil fuels companies funding. [4]

In order to reduce the usage of fossil fuels and profits from the industry that is destroying the earth, fossil fuel divestment is being widely used and encouraged by climate action activists. Divestment is the opposite of investment and usually it is chosen for ethical reasons, especially in the climate change context. Divestment means a critical stand against the fossil fuels industry’s harmful practices and environmental impact. [5] It is important to be aware of our choices as consumers and do not forget the huge impact large corporations have on climate change.

Hold politicians accountable. Politicians have a future of the climate in their hands as mitigation of climate change depends on political decisions. Therefore, it is always crucial to keep it in mind while voting in elections. Data shows that people are feeling frustrated with lack of political will as governments fail to act. Most unhappy nations with their politicians are South Africa, France. [6] In modern world technology to combat climate change is also really advanced, however due to lack of action from politicians it is not used effectively. [7]

Not only voting can help to hold politicians accountable. Activism, social campaigns and society’s pressure can also mean a lot. Climate change social campaigns are aimed to raise awareness and change attitudes and behavior of society and to mobilize people to put pressure on policymakers for effective climate crisis solutions. [8] One of the impactful campaigns was executed by Greenpeace and TckTckTck in 2009 and it was directed towards personal responsibility of politicians. Posters portraying politicians such as Barack Obama in the future offered an opportunity for leaders to choose a more positive future by acting now.

It is also crucial to execute freedom of speech and the right to assembly and organize protest, petitions and other advocacy towards a better and more sustainable future.

Community action. Climate change severely affects many communities - some of them are affected more than others. Many Strong Voices (MSV) - is a campaign of the Arctic and small island developing states inhabitants, who are the ones who have contributed least to climate change and yet are the ones who are suffering most. Programme works to connect such indigenous communities from around the world. For example, even though the Arctic and its melting glaciers are featured in many campaigns, in MSV inhabitants speak for themselves, strive to address the threat of climate change, and bring security and sustainability for their communities and homes. [9] MSV believes that their voices are not heard enough in the international community, however they continue their battle with climate change consequences nevertheless. MSV works to reduce energy demand and to increase renewable energy supplies as well as give up diesel fuel. [10]

Cities, towns and neighborhoods no matter small or big, can help to mitigate climate change. For example, during the Rethink Glasgow project a special website was created, which allowed Glasgow residents to make suggestions about how to make specific places of the city more sustainable and green. During the project thousands of proposals were received and they all are currently being considered for the city’s climate action plan. [11] Inspiring examples can be found even in rural places. In Belize three Mayan women, solar engineers, decided to contribute to the sustainable development of their small indigenous community, where it is hard and expensive to get electricity, by installing solar energy systems. [12] Examples show that using your rights as a community is important, can have a tremendous effect and help solve climate change problems.

All in all, activism and enhancing human and civil rights can help climate change mitigation by pressuring politicians, businesses and speaking up, acting for your community. Therefore, it is important to understand and use your rights for the better future of our planet.

This article is a part of the project “Youth for Climate change!” which is implemented by Global Citizens‘ Academy (Lithuania) together with “Stebėk teises” (Lithuania), Peace Action (Estonia), Crossing Borders (Denmark). This publication has been produced with financial support from the Nordic Council of Ministers. The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of the coordinators of this project and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Nordic Council of Ministers.


[1] The new climate change activism is emotional, and it’s a good thing, Louise Knops, The Loop, ECPR’s Political Science Blog.
[2] How companies blame you for climate change, William Park, BBC, 2022.
[3] Fossil fuels and climate change: the facts, ClientEarth, 2022.
[4] Fossil Free, People&Planet.
[5] What is Fossil Fuel Divestment? (Why Does it Matter?), Unity College, America’s Environmental College, 2022.
[6] The world is on fire and our leaders are failing, poll finds, Ryan Heath, Politico, 2022.
[7] We Have the Technology to Solve Climate Change. What We Need Is Political Will, Alejandro de la Garza, Time, 2022.
[8] Climate change and social campaigns, Raducu, Raluca, et al., Journal of Medicine and Life 13.4, 2020.
[9] Many Strong Voices, Mark Notaras, Our World, United Nations University, 2009.
[10] Spotlight: Many Strong Voices, The Climate and Migration Coalition.
[11] 6 examples of community engagement in climate action, Charlotte Cooper, Commonplace, 2022.
[12] Small solutions, big impacts: 5 community-based projects tackling climate change, United Nations News, 2022.