Monday, October 11, 2021

Clean, healthy and sustainable environment now designated a human right by UN Human Rights Council


The UN Human Rights Council at its 48th session recognised, for the first time, that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. The Human Rights Council also established the position of Special Rapporteur on Climate Change.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in a statement called on Member States to take bold actions to give prompt and real effect to the right to a healthy environment.

“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.

“We must build on this momentum to move beyond the false separation of environmental action and protection of human rights. It is all too clear that neither goal can be achieved without the other, and to that end a balanced, human rights-based approach to sustainable development must be ensured,” she said. “During the run-up to the critical COP-26* meeting in Glasgow, and the negotiations of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, today’s Human Rights Council resolutions will hopefully stimulate a wider acceptance of such an approach.”

Bachelet's speech at the start of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council outlined the escalating climate impacts, the rising loss of biodiversity, the problem of growing pollution, and the need to tackle the triple crises within a strong human rights framework.

"Addressing the world's triple environmental crisis is a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative."

"It is also doable."

"Combatting and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic will require billions of dollars to be spent on rebuilding and supporting national economies. Policy choices can direct that spending into new, green directions that tackle inequalities and stimulate innovative environmental solutions that also uphold and promote human rights."

An excerpt of the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council

1. Recognizes the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights;

2. Notes that the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is related to other rights that are in accordance with existing international law;

3. Encourages States:

(a) To build capacities for the efforts to protect the environment in order to fulfil their human rights obligations and commitments, and to enhance cooperation with other States, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the rest of the United Nations system and other relevant international and regional organizations, agencies, convention secretariats and programmes, and relevant non-State stakeholders, including civil society, national human rights institutions and business, on the implementation of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, in accordance with their respective mandates;

(b) To continue to share good practices in fulfilling human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, including by exchanging knowledge and ideas, building synergies between the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment, bearing in mind an integrated and multisectoral approach and considering that efforts to protect the environment must fully respect other human rights obligations, including those related to gender equality;

(c) To adopt policies for the enjoyment of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as appropriate, including with respect to biodiversity and ecosystems;

(d) To continue to take into account human rights obligations and commitments relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in the implementation of and follow-up to the Sustainable Development Goals, bearing in mind the integrated and multisectoral nature of the latter;

4. Invites the General Assembly to consider the matter;

5. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

The Human Rights Council voted In favour (43): Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Against (0):

Abstentions (4): China, India, Japan and Russian Federation.

Special Rapporteur on Climate Change 

The Human Rights Council, in resolution (48/14), the Council also increased its focus on the human rights impacts of climate change by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change dedicated to that issue for a period of 3 years. 

The mandate  includes to report annually to the Human Rights Council, starting from its fiftieth session, and to the General Assembly at its seventy-seventh session. The job will also be required to assist in conducting a study and to prepare a report on the impact of new technologies for climate protection on the enjoyment of human rights, and to submit the report to the Council at its fifty-fourth session.

These resolutions were part of a group of four resolutions adopted on the right to development, human rights and indigenous peoples, the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people, and the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment


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