UN Body Adopts Universal Right to Healthy Environment | News | SDG Knowledge Hub


The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the first formal recognition of this right at the global level. The HRC was meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, for its 48th ordinary session.

The resolution was proposed by five member states of the HRC: Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland. At the October 8, 2021 meeting, four governments abstained from voting – China, India, Japan and Russia – and the resolution was passed with 43 votes for and none against. By the text (HRC resolution 48/13), the Council:

  • recognizes the human right to a “clean, healthy and sustainable environment”;
  • encourages states to:
    • build capacity to protect the environment, cooperate with each other, the United Nations system and other bodies and actors, including civil society, business and national human rights institutions, on implementation of this right;
    • share good practices in the realization of the law and create synergies between the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment;
    • consider that efforts to protect the environment must fully respect other human rights obligations, including those related to gender equality;
    • adopt policies for the enjoyment of the right, “including with regard to biodiversity and ecosystems”; and
    • take into account the human rights obligations related to this right in the implementation of the SDGs.
  • invites the United Nations General Assembly to consider the matter.

Always according to the resolution,

  • environmental degradation, climate change and unsustainable development constitute some of the most urgent and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy human rights, including the right to life;
  • the exercise of human rights is vital for the protection of a clean, healthy and sustainable environment;
  • additional measures should be taken for those who are particularly vulnerable to environmental damage; and
  • a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential for the enjoyment of all human rights.

In the Stockholm Declaration of 1972, UN member states declared that people have a fundamental right to a “quality” environment that allows for a life of dignity and well-being. The 2021 resolution was supported by more than 1,300 civil society organizations and indigenous peoples groups, 15 United Nations agencies, business groups, more than 90,000 children around the world and the Global Alliance of Institutions national human rights rights.

UNEP reports that when the resolution was adopted, applause erupted in the normally quiet Council Chamber. Welcoming the resolution, the head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Inger Andersen, called it a breakthrough for environmental justice and called it a “shield for individuals and communities” against risks. for their health and livelihoods. In particular, she said it sends a message to the “billion children at extremely high risk from the impacts of climate change: a healthy environment is your right”. She encouraged the UNGA to consider adopting a similar resolution.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has said the law must be the springboard for transformative economic, social and environmental policies that will protect people and nature. She added that neither environmental action nor the protection of human rights can be achieved without each other; their separation is false.

Also during the 48th session of the HRC, the Council established a special rapporteur to monitor human rights in the context of the climate emergency. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) said the two decisions – the global recognition of the human right to a healthy environment and the creation of a special rapporteur – “signal a new era in politics. rights-based climate ”. CIEL said that the Special Rapporteur’s decision, in particular, indicates the Council’s understanding of the need to “respond to the fact that climate change is the greatest threat to the enjoyment of human rights in the 21st century”. [HRC resolution] [Meeting summary] [UNEP article] [UN news] [Webpage for HRC’s 48th regular session]

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