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Human Rights in the Process of National Adaptation Planning: Insights from a Review of Submitted NAPs

Learn about the outcomes of mapping conducted on multisectoral NAPs available in 2020-2021. This study discusses entry points to ensure that human rights principles are meaningfully integrated and guide the NAP process.
Multiple Authors
Three women in a field wearing traditional clothing from the Philippines
Women from the Ifugao minority group near rice terraces in Banaue, Philippines - Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock


At the sixteenth Convention of the Parties (COP16) to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it was agreed that national adaptation plans (NAPs) would be created and established in least developed countries (LDC) and supported by developed countries. Other developing countries were also encouraged and invited to join in creating NAPs. The purpose of the NAPs is to build relevant national adaptation programmes of action in these countries that address their medium- and long- term adaptation needs.

There are four elements that comprise the NAP process; (1) laying the groundwork and addressing the gaps; (2) preparatory elements; (3) implementation strategies and (4) reporting, monitoring, and review. Most countries are still in the beginning stages with only six reaching the implementation stage. Therefore, it is not possible to assess the outcomes of NAPs. However, this enables opportunities to inform the process with insights on how to improve sectoral or thematic adaptation planning and how to learn from implementation.

One area that NAPs tend to overlook are human rights, even though human rights are enshrined in the preamble of the Paris Agreement. Climate change will infringe on the rights of vulnerable groups, including the rights to life, to health and well-being, to physical integrity and human dignity, to an adequate standard of living, to a decent livelihood, and to education. It is crucial to understand and evaluate how NAPs have integrated the principles and approaches of human rights in their planning and implementation stages to identify potential gaps and entry points to create best practices.

This study reviews and reports on the outcomes of mapping conducted on multisectoral NAPs available at the time of the analysis (2020- 2021) and discusses entry points to ensure that human rights principles are meaningfully integrated and guide the NAP process. Countries included in this review are as follows: Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Fiji, Grenada, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Palestine, Saint Lucia, Sri Lanka, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Suriname, and Timor-Leste.

This weADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.


This study was conducted through the following steps:

  • First Step: Define the rights to be assessed using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a base line. The UDHR serves as the foundation for 20 major human rights conventions and is universally accepted by all states. Scholars classify human rights as being: civil and political rights; social, economic and cultural rights, and group or collective rights. However, there is no commonly agreed list of group rights, therefore, group rights were identified based on a subjective assessment of their relevance to climate change.
  • Second Step: Search and code for specific terms in the NAPs. The first phase of this step was to search for phrases including the terms “right” or “rights”. Then, the following terms were searched to identify if there were indirect references to human principles:
    • Free/freedom
    • Equal/equality
    • Dignity
    • (Non) discrimination
    • Life
    • Liberty
    • Security
    • Remedy
    • (Access) justice
    • Due process
    • Property
    • Participation
    • Health
    • Wellbeing
    • Food
    • Water
    • Living (adequate standard)
    • Shelter
    • Education
    • Culture
    • Self-discrimination
    • Healthy environment
    • Intergenerational equity
    • Cultural
    • Indigenous
    • (Access of) information
    • Fair trial
    • Movement
    • Expression
    • (Right to) land

Limitations: Only 15 NAPs were reviewed due to language barriers. Only multisectoral NAPs were reviewed. All NAPs were formatted differently and varied greatly in length and style.


For the first stage of study, the direct references to human rights were analyzed. The second stage analyzed the indirect references.

Direct References

The NAPs of Fiji and Brazil have shown the greatest number of hits on the keywords “right” or “rights,” with 49 and 38 hits, respectively. However, only 36 hits in Fiji and 34 hits in Brazil were valid hits in that they refer o human rights either explicitly or implicitly. Some limited references to “right” or “rights” are found in the NAPs of Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Timor-Leste, and Sudan.

Single instances of a direct mention of rights are found in the NAPs of Palestine, Kiribati, Burkina Faso, Kuwait and Kenya.

The NAPs of Fiji and Brazil can be considered strong on human rights. Fiji, in particular, was the only country to explain the importance of promoting human rights-based approaches and to purposefully integrate human rights in the structure of the plan. To introduce its section on Gender and Human Rights-Based Adaptation, Fiji’s NAP states, “the identification and integration of gender and human rights issues and approaches into adaptation planning processes was vital because it is well established and accepted that exposure and sensitivity to climate change, as well as the capacity to adapt, vary substantially across social and economic groups” (Government of the Republic of Fiji, 2018, p. 38). Such recognition of human rights principles and the value of utilizing such approaches provides a clear outline for how adaptation planning, implementation and monitoring should be addressed. The plan goes on to outline tools to operationalize a gender and human rights-based approach, advising to put in place: training for government representatives to support gender and human rights-based approaches: institutional arrangements that are responsive to vulnerable groups; sex- and age- disaggregated data and responsive reporting; needs assessments; and participatory and gender-responsive budgeting. The NAP also describes how applying a gender and human rights-based approach requires relevant stakeholders to “proactively empower and support disadvantaged groups to be able to assert their rights and have equitable access to leadership positions, decision making processes, opportunities, and resources” (Government of the Republic of Fiji, 2018, p. 38).

Indirect References

In addition to direct mentions of “right” or “rights” in the NAPs, we also searched for keywords that could highlight implicit references to human rights principles. Of all the terms, those that did not receive hits were: dignity, liberty, remedy, due process, self-determination, fair trial, expression, defender.

The returned hits were analyzed for their reference to human rights as the keywords could be present without referencing a specific right. Their use could be completely unrelated to the human rights concepts we were looking for. The NAPs also vary considerably in their levels of detail, with some outline general goals while others provide sectoral plans and outcomes. Such a variety of approaches drastically influences how many times a term might be referring and the extent to detail give. For some, references to the terminology searched in this study only appeared in the glossary or annexes. While glossary terms are not described below, such references were noted by the authors. Similarly, some indirect references to rights were tangential and are not fundamental principles that guide the NAP. To figure out how rights are referenced in NAPs, it is important to look at the NAP structure, the country context, the sectoral strategies to highlight key vulnerabilities and consider ways to address them. In this report, a discussion is held of how certain keywords are used and how they relate to human rights principles.

Key Messages

  • Human rights are not systematically referenced in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). Few countries directly mention human rights at all, let alone in a way that guides any part of the NAP process.
  • States’ obligations under international human rights treaties should be more clearly emphasized. The challenge is how to do this in a way that will lead to meaningful use of a human-rights based approach in the design of future NAPs. Planners and decision makers need to appreciate the added value of using a human rights-based approach to NAP planning and implementation.
  • An array of thematic NAP guidance has been produced on the topics of forestry, gender, water, human settlements, agriculture, and health, but none provide a holistic approach to human rights. Instead, as the NAPs themselves show, guidance is often formulated around a specific sector (such as equality, food, or water) without necessarily using rights-based language to underscore the State’s obligation to fulfil those rights and to recognize and address the unique needs of vulnerable groups and communities.
  • Human rights are both directly and indirectly referenced in all 15 NAPs, but in very diverse ways. This reflects the context-specific nature of adaption planning with each plan describing a country’s unique vulnerabilities, priorities and capacities.
  • Moving forward, NAP actors and stakeholders can refine and develop detailed guidance on social political, administrative, and legal entry points for human reights-based approaches to be integrated into the NAP process.

Conclusion and Recommendations

After meticulous analysis it is evident that human rights do not appear regularly or consistently in the NAPs reviewed. There are some notable, but limited examples. Moving forward the challenge is to explore and identify how human rights-based approaches can be institutionalized in ongoing NAP planning and implementation. Guidance will need to be developed to assist this process. Efforts need to be made to develop capacities of the NAP planners and implementors to use such guidance. A monitoring framework to track progress and glean insights from the implementation of a rights-based approach to enable iterative learning needs to be developed and established. NAP actors and stakeholders should refine entry points outlined in this review and develop detailed guidance on how these avenues can be integrated in the process of NAPs.

Suggested Citation

Anschell, N; Salamanca, A; Bernard, V; and Aryani, S. (2022) Human Rights in the Process of National Adaptation Planning: Insights from a Review of Submitted NAPs, Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Further Reading