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Protection of Natural Resources against Adverse Effects of Climate Change in Palestine: A Perspective Based on International Law
03، Nov 2021

This brief is part of a series on climate change, its adverse effects and the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime, published in the context of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. 

Article 1(2) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[1] defines ‘climate change’ as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”[2]

Article 1(1) further describes ‘adverse effects of climate change’ as “changes in the physical environment or biota resulting from climate change which have significant deleterious effects on the composition, resilience or productivity of natural and managed ecosystems or on the operation of socio-economic systems or on human health and welfare.”[3]

Israel’s appropriation, exploitation and degradation of Palestinian natural resources, water and fertile lands, is the main tool that Israel utilizes to entrench its climate oppression and injustice over the Palestinian people and their lands. For Palestinian communities - particularly herding and Bedouin communities - whose livelihood mostly relies on access to and exploitation of their natural wealth, the appropriation thereof exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and prevents their design and implementation of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, eventually fuelling their forcible displacement.   

Addressing Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian natural resources according to an environmental approach constitutes an absolutely essential framework to understand how they constitute first and foremost a climate and environmental justice question. Although the development of international law predated the building of an international legal framework to address the adverse effects of climate change, legal provisions related to the protection of the environment provide a sound legal basis to assess states’ responsibilities in this regard. 

Preventing the Adverse Effects of Climate Change: Protection of Natural Resources against Warfare 

Principle 24 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that “warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.”[4]

The West Bank, including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip comprise the occupied Palestinian territory under international law. As per Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations,[5] Israel, the Occupying Power, is bound to administer the territory for the benefit of the occupied population. In doing so, the legal framework includes the application of international humanitarian law as lex specialis, international human rights law and general international law.[6] It is inferred thereof that: 

Being the de facto, temporary administrator of the occupied territory, Israel does not acquire any sovereignty over its natural resources, which it must administer according to the laws of occupation. 

  • Under Article 53 of the Hague Regulations, movable public property - including extracted or produced natural resources - “may be used for military operations”[7]
  • Immovable public property - natural resources in situ - are subject to the laws of usufruct according to Article 55 of the Hague Regulations.[8] Following the later provision, Israel cannot use Palestinian natural resources for the benefit of its own economy.
  • The destruction of natural resources, unjustified by absolute military necessity, is prohibited under Article 53 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.[9] Particularly within the context of Article 55 to Protocol Additional I to the Geneva Convention, the natural environment should be protected against widespread, long-term and severe damage, including “the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby prejudice the health or survival of the population.”[10]

Peoples’ Right to Mitigate and Adapt the Effects of Climate Change As Per Their Right to Self-Determination 

The right to self-determination is a paramount right belonging to people under international customary and treaty law, and particularly recognized to the Palestinian people in a number of UN General Assembly Resolutions, which affirm that “the right of the Palestinian people to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources must be used in the interest of their national development, the well-being of the Palestinian people and as part of the realization of their right to self-determination.”[11]

The right to self-determination is affirmed in Common Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stipulates that: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they [...] freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”[12] To this purpose, they “may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources [...]” and “In no case may [they] be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”[13]  

Sustainable development in a context of shrinking natural resources, through and by means of the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies, is ineluctably contingent upon the Palestinian people’s ability to access and exploit their natural resources in a sovereign and unhindered manner. 

Conclusion: Towards An Intersectional Approach to Tackle Climate Change 

The protection of peoples’ natural resources as provided under international law is an essential basis of action towards the mitigation and adaptation of adverse effects of climate change in territories affected by armed conflicts. They bring important insights as per states’ obligations and responsibilities in terms of the exploitation and damage of natural resources.

However, the climate change legal framework as defined under the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement barely acknowledges the human rights dimensions of climate change. The Paris Agreement, to which both the State of Palestine and Israel are State signatories, makes no reference to situations of armed conflict or belligerent occupation, although it mentions, on a number of occasions, States responsibilities to decrease climate change vulnerability and reinforce resilience. In particular, 

  • Article 2(b) of the Paris Agreement calls for the strengthening of global responses to climate change challenges by “increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and to foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions developments [...][emphasis added].”[14]
  • Article 7(1) of the Paris Agreement underlines that “Parties [...] establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response [emphasis added].”[15]  

The struggle for climate justice is inherently interrelated to the liberation from all forms of alienation and oppression. Tackling climate change, particularly situations of occupation, apartheid and colonization, requires to take a broad, comprehensive and intersectional approach to climate change and human rights, and to bring the rights of peoples at the forefront.

Read Al-Haq’s report on an environmental approach to the protection of natural resources in Palestine here and Al-Haq’s report on climate change adaptation here


[1] Israel ratified the UNFCCC on 4 June 1996. See United Nations Treaty Collection, “Depositary - 7. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,”    

[2] UNGA, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Resolution/adopted by the General Assembly, 20 January 1994, A/RES/48/189, Article 1(2),  

[3] UNGA, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Resolution/adopted by the General Assembly, 20 January 1994, A/RES/48/189, Article 1(1),    

[4] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 13 June 1996, A/CONF.151/26(vol.I) 31 ILM 874, Principle 24,

[5] “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” Convention (II) with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, 1907, Article 42,  

[6] Advisory Opinion Concerning Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, ICJ, 9 July 2004, para.114,

[7]  Convention (II) with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, 1907, Article 53,

[8] “The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.” 

[9] “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collective to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949, Article 53,  

[10] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977, Article 55(1),

[11] United Nations General Assembly, Right of the Palestinian People to Self-Determination, 24 March 2014, A/HRC/25/L.36 

[12] UNGA, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171,; UNGA, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, 993 UNTS 3,  

[13] UNGA, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171,; UNGA, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, 993 UNTS 3,