Human Right to a Healthy Environment
adopted by Human Rights Council
8 October 2021
The Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva on 8 October 2021, has finally recognised the human right to a healthy environment, a historic breakthrough that has the potential to improve the life of everyone on the planet. David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and environment, said “The world’s future looks a little bit brighter today. The United Nations, in an historical development, has for the first time recognised that everyone, everywhere, has a human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment."
“This has life-changing potential in a world where the global environmental crisis causes more than nine million premature deaths every year,” he said. “It will spark constitutional changes and stronger environmental laws, with positive implications for air quality, clean water, healthy soil, sustainably produced food, green energy, climate change, biodiversity and the use of toxic substances.”
Boyd thanked five Council members – Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – for bringing the resolution to adoption after civil society and communities, including environmental, human rights, youth, women’s and indigenous peoples, had fought for it for 30 years.
Recognition of this right had also been endorsed by UN Secretary General António Guterres, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and 15 UN agencies, and was supported by young activists, business groups and more than 1,300 civil society organisations from around the world.
“This resolution is especially important for all of the environmental human rights defenders working, often at great personal risk, to safeguard the land, air, water and ecosystems that we all depend on,” Boyd said. “It is also vital for the people and communities who suffer disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation, including women, children, indigenous and other potentially vulnerable and marginalized populations.”
Boyd urged governments to incorporate the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in their constitutions and legislation. He urged leaders who will meet at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK on 1-12 November 2021, and at the UN conference on biodiversity (COP 15) starting in Kunming, China, on 11 October 2021, to put human rights at the centre of their actions.
“In a world that too often emphasizes the differences between people, the right to a healthy environment reflects a fundamental truth that should unite us all,” Boyd said.
“Everyone’s health and quality of life depends on clean air, safe water, sustainably produced food, a stable climate, and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems. We are all extraordinarily fortunate to live on this miraculous planet, and we must use the right to a healthy environment to ensure governments, businesses and people do a better job of taking care of the home that we all share.”
Another achievement at this session of the Human Rights Council was the adoption of the three-year mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. This will be an independent expert free to explore all dimensions of the issue. A call for candidatures has been issued, with an appointment by 25 March 2022. This effort was led by the Marshall Islands supported by Bahamas, European Union, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay and Sudan, with support by many civil society organizations.
Last updated 18 October 2021