Climate Change & Civic Space

Climate change will dramatically shift how we live our lives. A vibrant civic space is essential to ensure everyone can fully participate in shaping this future.

There is virtually no aspect of human rights or development that will not be affected by the climate crisis, and there will be no effective response without the full engagement of citizens, communities, and civil society globally. However, the rise of a global climate movement has been accompanied by a crackdown on civic space for climate activists worldwide. As climate strikes, protests, and mass mobilization become more widespread, many governments have teamed up with private actors or turned to legislation that limits civic freedoms to quell climate activism.

Climate change icon (credit: Swifticons)

Key Resources

UNSR Report On Civic Space and Climate Justice

In this thematic report, the UNSR on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Voule, discusses key threats and challenges facing climate activists and civic space in the context of climate justice globally.

International Standards Protecting the Climate and its Defenders

This guide, created by ECNL, explores the key standards that protect climate activists’ civic freedoms.  It maps out the standards that protect the rights of environmental defenders, the types of restrictions that impact them, and the mechanisms that can enforce their rights and freedoms.

Closing Civic Space for Climate Activists

This briefer, presented by ICNL and ECNL, outlines some of the common legal and extralegal measures used to target civil society actors working on climate justice. Many of these measures violate international and regional law and threaten civil society’s ability to address urgent environmental challenges.

Climate Change: A Civic Space Future Trend Report

Climate change and the response to the crisis is set to transform the global economy, politics, and society by 2040. This briefing explores how states’ responses to the climate crisis over the next two decades will affect civic space for a range of established and new actors.

Extractive Industries and Civic Space

In early 2022, ICNL, NRGI, PWYP, Oxfam USA, and the Institute of Development Studies convened partners from civil society, academia, and multilateral institutions to explore natural resource governance in restricted environments, new strategies to defending and expanding civic space for NRG activists, and implications for just energy transitions.

Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark

This Business & Human Rights Resource Centre briefer covers the first human rights benchmark study of the largest renewable energy companies. The study showed that most lack the essential human rights policies to avoid abuse of the communities and workers on which a just transition depends.

Challenges to Environmental Groups’ Advocacy Rights

This issue of ICNL’s Global Trends examines common techniques used by governments and corporations to undermine the ability of environmental groups and activists to exercise freely their rights to assemble, associate, and express themselves.

The NGO Climate Compact

The “NGO Climate Compact: Commitments toward Environmental Action and Sustainability” represents a pledge by the InterAction community, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs, to urgently work to address climate change. It recognizes that the environment is central to achieving organizations’ missions to serve the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

ECNL: A Message to the Delegates at COP26

This article, written by ECNL, highlights that restrictions on civil society undermine climate mitigation efforts and impede the collaboration that is so crucial to slowing the climate crisis over the next decade. It lays out pledges for delegates of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to ensure freedom of assembly and climate defenders are protected and included in the climate conversation.

Green Voices: Public Participation for Climate Activists

This ECNL paper focuses on government restrictions that restrain activists and groups from meaningfully participating in decision-making processes on climate and environmental issues.

Enemies of the State?

Global Witness’s annual report on the killings of land and environmental defenders documents the many ways defenders are being criminalized, with countless people threatened, arrested, or thrown in jail for daring to oppose the governments or companies seeking to profit from their land.

Climate Activism from the Frontlines to the UN

This CIVICUS report examines the power of the growing climate movement, as well as restrictions that are holding it back. It also details how UN member states have collectively failed to respond, and makes recommendations on how to meaningfully recognize the youth climate movement.

Climate Change and Civic Space in MENA

This study maps laws and regulations in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia that impact civic space, participation, and assembly as it relates to climate change and climate justice activism with a focus on their compatibility with international standards and laws.

Freedom of Assembly, Association, and Climate Defenders in Africa

Climate defenders in Africa face common challenges in exercising their assembly and association rights. On May 13, 2021, civil society organizations that work on climate justice from across sub-Saharan Africa, met with UNSR Voule to share first-hand information about the threats and challenges to freedom of peaceful assembly and association facing climate defenders.

U.S. Current Trend: Environmental Nonprofits Facing Lawfare Tactics

The battle over environmental activism has moved indoors to legislatures and courtrooms. This ICNL analysis looks at new types of “lawfare” to weaponize the law to undermine environmental organizations and their message.

All Climate Change and Civic Space Resources

Solving the Climate Crisis Together

climate activists in crowd with sign that says 1.5 degrees (photo credit: unsplash.com)
This article, written by ECNL, highlights that restrictions on civil society undermine climate mitigation efforts ... Read More

Protecting Civic Space for Climate Activists

Young climate activists protesting with sign. Sign text: "There is no planet B" (photo credit: unsplash.com)
This briefer ECNL and ICNL briefer presents key findings and recommendations from the UNSR report on ... Read More

UNSR Report: Civic Space and Climate Justice

Cardboard sign at protest that says Climate Justice Now (photo credit: unsplash.com)
In this report, the UNSR on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of ... Read More

Green Voices: Public Participation for Climate Activists

sign that says one world with Earth (photo credit: unsplash.com)
ECNL paper on government restrictions that restrain activists/groups from participating in decision-making processes on climate ... Read More

Culture and Cultural Rights Dimensions of the Current Climate Emergency

two boys on canoe in flood waters (photo credit:
This report, by the UNSR in the field of cultural rights, addresses the cultural and ... Read More

Closing Civic Space for Climate Activists

Climate justice protest. (Photo: Linh Do/Flickr)
This briefer, presented by ICNL and ECNL, outlines some of the common legal and extralegal ... Read More
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Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.