Clean Environment Is a Human Right Now
On October 8 in its resolution 48/13, the Human Rights Council recognised, for the first time, that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is indeed a human right, in its resolution 48/13. The Council called on States to work together, and with other partners, to implement this newly recognized right. At the same time, through a second resolution (48/14), the Council also increased its focus on the human rights impacts of climate change by establishing a Special Rapporteur dedicated specifically to that issue.
“The Human Rights Council’s decisive action in recognising the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is about protecting people and planet – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. It is also about protecting the natural systems which are basic preconditions to the lives and livelihoods of all people, wherever they live,” the High Commissioner said. “Having long called for such a step, I am gratified that the Council’s action today clearly recognises environmental degradation and climate change as interconnected human rights crises.” “Bold action is now required to ensure this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social and environmental policies that will protect people and nature,” she added.
Amnesty International’s Law and Policy Director Ashfaq Khalfan said: “This resolution brings hope in the context of widespread and increasing climate disasters, and is a milestone moment in the battle against environmental degradation. With the adoption of this resolution, the HRC has finally acknowledged that the enjoyment of human rights depends on the environment we live in. When the planet suffers, so do we, and all over the world environmental degradation is robbing people of their rights.
“Government failures to protect the planet, and the ongoing support for environmentally destructive industries, amount to an assault on human rights on a massive scale. We welcome the long-overdue adoption of this resolution, and now call on states to ensure it translates into real change by recognizing this right in law at a national level, and by strengthening their environmental laws and policies.
In 2018, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment has pointed out that the greening of well-established human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, housing, culture, development, property and home, and private life, has contributed to improvements in the health and well-being of people worldwide. However, more work needs to be done to further clarify and, more importantly, implement and fulfil the human rights obligations relating to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Inger Andersen said: “the adoption of the resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the UN Human Rights Council is a breakthrough moment for environmental justice. This right has been rooted in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration. Five decades later, it is greatly encouraging to see it formally recognized at the global level through a UN Human Rights Council resolution. The decision, taken today in Geneva, is a shield for individuals and communities against a plethora of risks to their health and livelihoods. The recognition of the right to a healthy environment is a historic landmark in our ongoing work for social and environmental justice. It is a message to one billion children at extremely high risk of the impacts of a changed climate: a healthy environment is your right. No one can take away nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate from you. The UN Environment Programme considers this an important step in building the planet as a safe and fair home to all.”
“Physical attacks, detentions, arrests, legal action and smear campaigns are the daily realities of citizen groups, indigenous peoples and others. We expect this resolution to embolden governments, legislators, courts, and citizen groups in pursuing substantial elements of the Common Agenda for renewed solidarity, presented last month by the UN Secretary-General, as well as the 2020 Call to Action on Human Rights. Let no one be left behind, as we forge a healthier planet with less conflict and more space for youth to be heard.”