Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
8 April 2022
More than five months have passed following the Human Rights Council’s historic adoption of the resolution (48/13) recognizing, for the first time at the global level, the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The resolution has taken on a life of its own, catalyzing conversations and actions all over the world.
In New York, the core group of States supporting the human rights and environment mandate, (Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland) are discussing options for introducing a resolution at the UN General Assembly. The Council of Europe is moving steadily towards the adoption of an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, recognizing the right to a healthy environment. Indeed, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended this action last fall, even going so far as providing a draft protocol. Efforts are ongoing to ensure that this fundamental right is included in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, as well as the draft UN treaty on transnational businesses and human rights.
The Constitutional Court of Costa Rica mentioned Resolution 48/13 in a recent decision, based on the constitutional right to a healthy environment, ordering the government to stop the use of a bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticide. The Constitutional Court of Ecuador mentioned Resolution 48/13 in a decision, based partially on the constitutional right to a healthy environment, prohibiting mining in protected forests.
In a major human rights and environment victory that did not involve Resolution 48/13, a South African court ruled that chronic air pollution in the Mpumalanga region violated the constitutional right to a healthy environment. The court ordered the government to enact new regulations to improve air quality within six months, as well as several other actions.
In March 2022, David Boyd presented a report to the Human Rights Council on non-toxic environments where people can live, work, study and play. This was the sixth report in a series clarifying the substantive elements of the right to a healthy environment, following clean air, a safe climate, a healthy biosphere, safe and sufficient water and healthy and sustainable food. The report focused on extreme cases of environmental injustice, highlighting sacrifice zones around the world where the human rights of poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities have been violated in the name of profit and economic development.
Source: Based on the latest Newsletter 11 from David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
Last updated 8 April 2022