With all the latest environmental news of the last few weeks relating to COP26, it’s understandable that you may have missed a huge landmark resolution. The landmark resolution, 48/13, recognises for the first time that a healthy environment is a human right. This is a huge step forward in the battle to protect individuals and nature itself from the ongoing negative impacts of climate change and environmental destruction.
Why a Healthy Environment is a Human Right
It’s something that a few may have thought was obvious. Of course, an environment needs to be healthy for the health of the individuals and species that live there to be good. In fact, 80% of UN member states already recognise the right to a healthy environment through national law, court decisions or regional treaties. However, this is the first time that a healthy environment has been officially recognised as a human right at the UN, international level.
The human right for a clean and healthy environment came about through a recent proposal. The proposed right was put forward by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland. However, it was arguably the global support it obtained that contributed to its success.
For example, over 1300 civil society organisations have signed a letter in support for the new human right. The letter rightly states:
“A healthy environment is essential for human life and dignity. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the life-sustaining climate we enjoy, all are dependent on healthy, diverse, integral and functioning ecosystems. In view of the global environmental crisis that currently violates and jeopardizes the human rights of billions of people on our planet, global recognition of this right is a matter of utmost urgency. As we all know, there are no human rights on a dead planet.”
Businesses also supported the resolution. For example, Adidas, SalesForce and Unilever leant their support.
This, along with support from 15 UN bodies, put the proposed human right on the right path.
What is the Human Right to a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment?
The human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 48th Session on 5th October. The resolution document shares that the HRC:
“Recognizes the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights”
“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”
While also encouraging states to:
- Build capacities for the efforts to protect the environment in order to fulfil their human rights obligations and commitments
- Continue to share good practices in fulfilling human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
- Adopt policies for the enjoyment of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
- 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.
Looking Forward to a Future of Healthy Environments
The resolution has arrived at a much needed time with the Lancet reporting that the impacts of climate change are a “Code Red for a Healthy Future”. Local and global environments have been suffering for decades.
Marine rubbish has been a huge issue. It’s negative impact on the oceans has caused widespread damage and harm.
Similarly, waste from all industries is polluting environments all over. We’ve written extensively in the past about the negative impacts of fast fashion which provides just one example of this.
However, with the new human right to a clean and healthy environment, we have hope. It’s further, global, accountability that can lead to positive changes. We welcome this at CHEC. We look forward to improvements in environments all around the world.
What are your hopes for the new human right to a clean and healthy environment? Tell us in the comments below.