On 7 January 2020, the Human Rights Committee (the Committee) published its views in the case of Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand (CCPR/C/127/D/2728/2016) concerning an alleged violation of the right to life as a result of the effects of climate change.

The author, a national of the Republic of Kiribati, was denied international protection status in New Zealand and was subsequently removed to his country of origin. He claimed that the effects of climate change and sea level rise had resulted in, inter alia, unstable and precarious living conditions, the contamination of fresh drinking water, and increasingly violent land disputes. The Immigration and Protection Tribunal of New Zealand indicated that the author did not objectively face a risk of being persecuted as a result of land disputes, and had not shown evidence that the environmental conditions would be so perilous so as to jeopardize his right to life. He complained that his return violated his right to life under Article 6 ICCPR as a result of violent land disputes and environmental degradation.

The Committee noted that the primary issue in this case was whether the State had arbitrarily or erroneously evaluated the authors complaint that his return violated his right to life. In relation to the complaint of violence as a result of land disputes, it noted a general situation of violence is only sufficient to establish a real risk to the right to life in the most extreme cases. It added that the author had not demonstrated a clear arbitrariness or error in the domestic authorities’ assessment of a real, personal and foreseeable risk of threat to life resulting from violence due to land disputes. Moreover, it noted that while environmental degradation had made it hard to cultivate crops, it was not impossible. It added that the author had also failed to provide information regarding alternative employment and financial assistance. He had therefore failed to show the domestic authorities’ assessment to be arbitrary or erroneous.

No violation was found in this particular instance. However, the Committee noted that without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to violations of Articles 6 and 7 ICCPR and thus give rise to non-refoulement obligations of returning states. The suggested timeframe of 10 to 15 years before the island becomes uninhabitable was deemed to allow scope for intervening acts and affirmative measures by the States and the international community to protect and relocate individuals. The Committee was unable to conclude that the assessment conducted by domestic authorities was arbitrary, erroneous, or amounted to a denial of justice.