The relationship between human rights and climate change is increasingly in the spotlight. While it is clear that human rights are impacted by climate change, how does this relationship play out on the ground? How do climate processes interact with law, policy, institutions in producing vulnerability and rights issues? This paper adopts an interdisciplinary approach drawing from political ecology and law, to examine these questions. First, I argue that the relationship must be examined through a justice lens. Such a lens should be grounded in an understanding of climate justice that is contextual, relational, scalar and examines the processes that produce rights issues in a climate context. Second, the paper uses such an approach to examine the role of the law in a case study of a coastal area in India, the Sundarbans.
The Indian Sundarbans is a salient example of a coastal area in the Global South experiencing the worst impacts of climate change and where communities face multiple rights issues. Floods and tidal surges are a part of everyday life that can wash away houses, crops, and contaminate water sources. Like many other areas in the Global South, residents of the Sundarbans have contributed very little to global warming. The region is a World Heritage site and is renowned for its biological diversity and wildlife. The region is also home to 4.5 million people, who make up some of the poorest and most marginalised sections of the country. The grounded case study explores the contradictions and tensions that exist in the legal and policy framework and their implementation in the context of climate change.