Food Security and Human Rights: Examining Article 11(2) of the ICESCR

by Sadiyah Ahmed

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is an international human rights treaty [1]. Article 11(2) of the treaty protects a civilian’s right to an adequate standard of living [2]. Yet, the current climate crisis is arguably threatening this right , perhaps even forcing it to operate in rhetoric.

It is no secret that countries with warmer climates typically participate largely in horticulture. Thus, it follows that civilians in such countries are often reliant on such agriculture to survive. Climate change alters the growth rates of horticultural plants [3]. For example, as temperatures rise countries will most likely face declining crop yields, shrinking productive farmland, a decrease in soil fertility and less water availability, causing their agricultural activity to suffer [4]. This will result in an absence of food and water, thus it is fair to estimate standards of living will decrease as food security does.

It would seem logical to presume member states are responding to such climate challenges and are consequently implementing measures to help uphold the rights stipulated in Article 11(2) of the ICESCR. However, member states seem to have failed in this sense. For example, not only is Spain one of the many countries which have ratified this convention, but studies have also shown that climate change is apparent in Spain as ‘summer’ lasts longer and is typically hotter [5, 6]. In September of 2015, the Spanish government adopted  the UN sustainable development goals, in which one of their major promises was to halve food waste by 2030. However, this goal seems to be completely fabricated as, in Spain, more than 84% of food products are being thrown away without being cooked [7]. This waste is often not recycled, entering a never-ending cycle which is further detrimental towards the environment. Spain is a state which has signed not only the main body of the ICESCR, but also the optional protocols within it Thus, whilst prima facie Spain may seem to be upholding the convention, when looking at the country in more detail this seems untrue, perhaps even an oxymoron. 

Whilst the example of Spain illustrates the state’s failure to uphold the convention, and consequently not helping combat the climate crisis or food insecurity, this is unfortunately a current trend among member states. Thus, it seems that the effectiveness of Article 11(2) of the ICESCR is questionable as this convention does in fact seem to cause it to operate more in rhetoric than reality.


[1]  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Equality and Human Rights Commission, URL:, accessed on 17/06/2021
[2] United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights United Kingdom British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies, 6th periodic report, URL: , accessed on 08/06/2021
[3] Dixon G., Collier R., and Bhattacharya I.,2014, An Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Horticulture, In: Dixon G., Aldous D. (eds) Horticulture: Plants for People and Places, Volume 2. Springer, Dordrecht, DOI: accessed on 10/06/2021
[4]   Mbow C et al, 2019, Food security, In: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, URL:, accessed on 10/06/2021
[5] Optional Protocol to ICESCR enters into force, Human Rights Law Centre,  URL:, accessed on 17/06/2021
[6] Planelles, M, 2019, More than a feeling: summers in Spain really are getting longer and hotter, El pais, URL:, accessed on 17/06/2021
[7] Agudo, A. and Femmine, L.,2019, How Spain is failing to curb food waste,El Pais, URL:, accessed 17/6/2021
Categories Environmental Law

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