A Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment is a Human Right
On 8 October 2021, the UN Human Rights Council recognized in its resolution 48/13 that having a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right.
The UN Council has called its member states to work together and with other partners to implement this newly recognized right. Through the 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. – 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.” The UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet
The High Commissioner characterized the triple planetary threats of climate change, pollution, and nature loss as the single greatest human rights challenge in our era. The resolution on a healthy environment acknowledges the damage inflicted by climate change and environmental destruction on millions of people across the world. It also underlines that the most vulnerable segments of the population are more acutely impacted.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights paid tribute to the efforts of a diverse array of civil society organisations around the world, who have been advocating for full international recognition of this right. She stressed the importance that the rights to participation, access to information, and access to justice are also respected in order for the human right to a healthy environment to be fully realized. Noting that an unprecedented number of environmental human rights defenders were reported killed last year urging states to take firm measures to protect and empower them. There is a need to build on this momentum to move beyond the false separation of environmental action and protection of human rights, stating 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.
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