Human Rights and the Climate Crisis: General Climate Change

The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time and we are at a monumental moment. Shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding–the impacts of climate change are global and unprecedented in scale. Lack of access to clean water, endless drought, and increasingly destructive natural disasters jeopardize our livelihoods.

If governments fail to take aggressive and targeted action to fight climate change, people’s human rights, including to life, education, health, food, and water, will suffer catastrophically. The impact on human rights disproportionately affects disadvantaged and marginalized communities. STFer’s are campaigning for their schools to transition to 100% renewable energy and engaging in climate justice education. We are committed to taking action for environmental justice. Join us!

Get Educated: If You Only Have…

60 Seconds:

Climate change impacts our human rights to:

  • Life: Climate change induced natural disasters endanger human lives causing injuries and death. Climate change also kills through an increase in heat, droughts and disease vectors. Air pollution is responsible for the premature death of 7 million people each year, including 600,000 children. 
  • Education: Extreme weather events lead to food insecurity, lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, and increased risk of diseases, making it extremely difficult for children to attend and remain in school.
  • Health: Due to increased fires, heat waves and smog levels, children face a higher risk of developing respiratory disorders. There is also an increased risk of malnutrition and under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in some regions and increased risk of diseases.

5 Minutes:

Test your knowledge with this Climate Change Quiz

Learn about Climate History:


30 Minutes:

Catch up on latest research from HRW’s Environment Division

Calculate your:

Get educated on the climate crisis

Take action to stop climate change

Teachers: Check out our Educators Portal for classroom resources

Climate Change Fast Facts

Watery Going to Do?

By 2040, 1 in 4 children will live in areas of extreme water stress, areas of extremely limited water resources.

Land now home to 200 million people could sit permanently below the high tide line by 2100. 

Protect Your Mother

About 36 football fields’ worth of trees are lost every minute due to deforestation.

55 million people globally are affected by droughts annually.​

Take a Deep Breath

7 million premature deaths annually are due to the effects of air pollution.

Our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them account for similar emissions to the amount produced by the global airline industry.

You’re a Disaster!

Since 2015, the U.S. has experienced roughly 100 more large wildfires every year than the year before.

Environmental disasters linked to climate change are threatening the lives of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh.

“Three Seconds” PSA

Watch: “Three Seconds” (Click to watch, 4:18)

“I believe we should have the right to eat food that’s safe…drink water that is clean, breathe air free of toxins. These are natural rights, not things that can be bargained for in Congress. When enough people come together, we will make waves, and wash the world into a new era filled with freedom for all. But it is up to you.”

Spencer Sharp feat. Prince Ea


“I Am Greta” Documentary

Trailer for “I Am Greta” (Click to watch, 2:22)

The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary from Swedish director Nathan Grossman. Starting with her one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, Grossman follows Greta—a shy student with Asperger’s—in her rise to prominence and her galvanizing global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world. The film culminates with her extraordinary wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.

“I Am Greta” Documentary

Watch the documentary on Hulu. Find more resources and follow up from the film in this Educator’s Toolkit from Can You Hear Us?

Introducing Josiah Edwards

Watch: Living Near Drilling Is Deadly. Why Don’t California Lawmakers Care? (Click to watch, 4:19)

“Growing up in Carson, a city in Los Angeles County, as a Black kid with childhood Asthma, my parents were always worried about my ability to just breathe…. To make matters worse, my middle school was less than a few miles away from one of the biggest refineries West of the Mississippi.”

Josiah Edwards

Climate Change Activist, Human Rights Watch Student Task Force Intern, Sunrise Movement Hub Coordinator

Read Josiah’s New York Times Op-Ed: Living Near Drilling Is Deadly. Why Don’t California Lawmakers Care?


Take Action to Stop Climate Change

Get started:

On Your Own/With Friends:

At home:

  • Talk to your parents about installing solar/purchasing clean energy through the Clean Power Alliance 
  • Adopt a zero-waste lifestyle 
  • Eat local and plant-based foods
  • Walk or take public transit  
  • Opt out of junk mail

Take a class: “An Introduction to Climate Change and Human Rights”

Reach out to your networks: Use the Climate Crisis Personal Advocacy Planner to identify who will join your advocacy efforts to fight the global climate crisis.

On Your School Campus:

Schools are among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in a community. Imagine the impact we could have if all schools transitioned to renewable energy. Join the more than 5,500 American schools already moving to clean renewable energy and make a tremendous impact for our future!

Check out these materials and resources to help transition school/school district to 100% renewable energy.

In Your Community:

  • Support or initiate solar at your local school
  • Start a community compost program
  • Join a community garden
  • Pick up litter 
  • Swap clothes with your neighbors and friends
  • Join a carpool
  • Replace gas mowers, blowers, hedge trimmers with a combination of rakes and electric or battery equipment
  • Vote for climate-conscious policies

Additional Materials and Resources

Human Rights and Climate Change Key Messages (click to open)

Climate change impacts, directly and indirectly, an array of internationally
guaranteed human rights. States (duty-bearers) have an affirmative obligation to take
effective measures to prevent and redress these climate impacts, and therefore, to
mitigate climate change, and to ensure that all human beings (rights-holders) have the
necessary capacity to adapt to the climate crisis. Climate justice requires that climate
action is consistent with existing human rights agreements, obligations, standards and
principles. Those who have contributed the least to climate change unjustly and
disproportionately suffer its harms. They must be meaningful participants in and
primary beneficiaries of climate action, and they must have access to effective
remedies. OHCHRʼs Key Messages on Human Rights and Climate Change highlight
the essential obligations and responsibilities of States and other duty-bearers
(including businesses) and their implications for climate change-related agreements,
policies, and actions. In order to foster policy coherence and help ensure that climate
change mitigation and adaptation efforts are adequate, sufficiently ambitious,
non-discriminatory and otherwise compliant with human rights obligations, the
following considerations should be reflected in all climate action.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Key Messages on Human Rights and Climate Change

Video: “Earthrise” (4:29) (click to open)
A moving spoken word poem about fighting for us by fighting for Earth by Amanda Gorman. (Click to watch, 4:29)
Video: “Three Seconds” (4:15) (click to open)
An epic presentation of where humanity stands today and how we must all work together to make it to the fourth second. (Click to watch, 4:17)
Video: Climate 101 with Bill Nye the Science Guy (4:33) (click to open)
Bill Nye narrates this short film on the basics of climate change. (Click to watch, 4:33)
Documentary Movie: David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (83:00) (click to open)
In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen. Available on Netflix, the film addresses some of the biggest challenges facing life on our planet, providing a snapshot of global nature loss in a single lifetime. With it comes a powerful message of hope for future generations as Attenborough reveals the solutions to help save our planet from disaster. (Click to watch, 1:59)

Educator’s Portal – Lesson Plans

Fill out our teacher survey to share if/how you’ve included climate change in your curriculum and/or what additional resources you need.


Renewable Energy Revamp

In this science lesson, students will be challenged with an optimization problem. A fictional town decided to replace coal with more sustainable energy sources. Students will create an optimal renewable energy plan that meets specific constraints and criteria.

Subjects: Math, Science

Grades: 9-10

CA Environmental Justice

In this short unit, students will explore environmental decision-making, definitions of environmental justice and environmental racism, how communities fight for environmental justice, and what environmental justice can look like in everyday life.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Science, Social Sciences

Grades: 9-12

Trigonometry & Rising Seas

This lesson plan will enable students to apply simple trigonometric functions to understand how global warming is causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and sea levels to rise. Students will discover how much land will be inundated within the next decade due to sea levels rising.

Subject: Math

Grades: 9-12

Poverty & Climate

This lesson plan includes reading resources to teach students about poverty, how it is exacerbated by climate change and the measures needed to manage it.

Subjects: Economics, English Language Arts, Social Studies (readings available in English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Arabic)

Grades: 9-12

Climate Crisis Mixer

Through role play, students are introduced to 23 individuals, each of whom is affected differently by climate change. Students meet one another in character, learn about the impact of climate change in their lives, how they are responding, and share their reflections and notes in their worksheet.

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts

Grades: 9-12

Renewable Energy Now

Students view two documentary film excerpts outlining the impacts of solar energy technologies in urban China and rural Zambia. Students will discuss the climate crisis beyond the science classroom and explore its social, economic, and human impacts.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Film/Video Arts, Music, Physical Sciences, Environmental Studies, Global Studies, Economics

Grades: 8-12

Film: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

As the drought and resulting famine in Malawi continue, young William Kamkwamba and his family come close to starvation. This true story shows how William’s resourcefulness provided a solution for his family and his village: a wind turbine to bring water to the fields.

Watch William’s TedTalk

Subjects: English Language Arts, Environmental Science, Social Studies, Film Studies

Grades: 9-12

Huracán María

In this lesson, Spanish language students will analyze three short excerpts of online newspaper articles about the economic impacts on Florida resulting from the influx of Puerto Rican climate refugees following Hurricane Maria. Lesson Objectives are available for various subjects and focus areas, making it easily adaptable to existing unit plans.

Subjects: Spanish Language

Grades: 9-12

Documentary: River of Gold

This documentary chronicles the clandestine journey of two war journalists and their guide into Peru’s Amazon rainforest to uncover the savage destruction of pristine jungle in pursuit of illegally mined gold. The film makes clear the consequences of this devastation on a global scale. Magnificent photography of plants, animals, and people inspires audiences to engage in solutions to protect the Amazon.

Watch the movie trailer, 2:59

Curriculum guides available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Science, Social Science

Grades: 6-12

Energy and Climate Change

In this lesson students will explore the connection between climate change and our energy consumption. Students will:

  • Learn about the causes and impacts of climate change;
  • Understand the link between Global Goals 7 and Global Goals 13;
  • Learn to distinguish between human and naturally induced Greenhouse Gas Emissions;
  • Identify the regions of the world that emit the most greenhouse gases.

Subjects: Geography, Math, Social Science

Grades: 8-12

Analyzing Environmental Justice

See how pollution disproportionately affects people experiencing poverty and members of racial and ethnic minorities. Explore reasons why people experiencing poverty and members of racial and ethnic minorities are often exposed to more pollution than others. Define environmental justice. Use a map to locate environmental injustice. Read graphs to learn about environmental discrimination. Think about solutions to environmental discrimination.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Math, Social Science

Grades: 6-12

CYHU: Educators for the Environment

Can You Hear Us? (CYHU) is an impact organization for the documentary I AM GRETA, working to amplify local climate action efforts to save our planet. This Educator’s Toolkit includes practical tips on creating a more sustainable classroom; Simple questions to ask students to encourage climate literacy; Films to screen in the classroom; Book recommendations to get the conversation started; Additional links and resources for educators.

Watch the I AM GRETA documentary trailer, 2:00

Subjects: Grades K-5 Multi-subject, Grades 6-12 ELA, Social Science

Grades K-12

Contact the STF Team if you would like additional resources or can help us curate our teacher’s portal to your needs.

Photo credits: Sea Choi (page banner), Karina Duarte (Get Educated, Additional Educational Resources), Pixlr (Fast Facts), New York Times (Carbon Footprint), NRDC (In California) Can You Hear Us (Additional Educational Resources, Educator’s Portal), Youth4Climate Strike Philippines (Educator’s Portal)

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