In a global first, Brazil’s supreme court has declared the Paris Climate Agreement a human rights treaty. Within Brazil, the court ruled, the climate pact should supersede national law.
“While scholars have argued that the Paris Agreement is a human rights treaty, the Brazilian court is the first to formally recognize it as such,” explained Maria Antonia Tigre, global climate litigation fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center, in a blog post. As a result of the ruling, if Brazil’s Congress passes a law that conflicts with the Paris Agreement, the Paris Agreement should take precedence. “In practice, the law in question is overridden by the treaty,” Tigre wrote.
The Paris Agreement is the first global environmental pact to explicitly mention human rights, but the sole mention is relegated to the preamble, which calls on states to “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights” when tackling climate change. “When the Paris Agreement was negotiated, much disagreement ensued over the adoption of human rights obligations in the substantive part of the text,” Tigre wrote.
Brazil’s high court tackled this question directly in a case concerning the government’s failure to distribute money from a national climate fund. In a ruling ordering the government to reactivate the fund, the court wrote, “Treaties on environmental law are a type of human rights treaty and, for that reason, enjoy supranational status. There is therefore no legally valid option to simply omit to combat climate change.”
Caio Borges of the Instituto Clima e Sociedade in Brazil told Climate Home that “having a constitutional court qualifying the Paris Agreement as a human rights treaty may spur a global movement for the courts to follow suit in that recognition.”