The UN Human Rights Council must recognize a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a universal human right, Amnesty International NGO said on its official site. With millions of people suffering from hunger and forced relocation due to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, it is becoming clear that human life and dignity depend on a healthy environment.
The 48th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (RLC) is taking place in Geneva (13 September to 8 October 2021). Together with more than 1,100 civil society and indigenous organizations, Amnesty International calls on the Member States to adopt a resolution formally recognizing the right to a healthy environment. Member States should also establish a new mandate for the UN Special Procedure on Human Rights and Climate Change.
“The dramatic effects of climate change have shown with impressive clarity how a healthy environment is an integral part of the realization of all our rights. It is easy to take our planet for granted until we see the real cost of its degradation: hunger, climate migration, unemployment, homelessness, disease and death, said Amnes Kallamar, Secretary-General of Amnesty International. “The inability of governments to take action on climate change in the face of compelling scientific evidence may well be the greatest intergenerational violation of human rights in history.”
“As the main global human rights body, the RPL must use all the tools at its disposal to counter the crisis. We call on all states to support the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the United Nations and at the national level. Those who do not do so will oppose the common future of humanity and will be condemned by history,” she added.
A key human right
The right to a healthy environment is officially recognized in more than 80% of UN member states (their constitutions, legislation, court decisions and regional treaties). According to many, it has already been indirectly mentioned in international human rights treaties, although it has not been directly recognized by States through the United Nations. A wide range of UN and other intergovernmental bodies, as well as NGOs, trade unions and business groups, have expressed their support for global recognition of the right to a healthy environment.
Recognition by the UN would demonstrate that states have a duty to protect, respect and promote this right. This would encourage states to recognize or strengthen this right in their national laws. It would also support the critical work of environmental activists, supporting the legitimacy of their efforts and encouraging states to better protect them from threats and attacks.
In addition to establishing a Special Procedure for Climate Change and Human Rights, official recognition would also make it easier for the United Nations to support states in improving their environmental performance. At present, the involvement of UN human rights bodies in addressing environmental issues depends on the link between environmental impact and other rights – for example, they can trace whether the right to adequate housing has been violated as a result of deforestation or the right to health. I am threatened by the inability to solve the problem of air pollution. The universally recognized right to a healthy environment will make it easier for UN human rights bodies to verify States’ compliance with their environmental human rights obligations.
Research shows that recognizing the right to a healthy environment at the state level contributes to improving the environment, including reducing air pollution, expanding access to clean drinking water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also enables communities to protect their rights from adverse environmental impacts.
“As the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment noted, when the UN adopted resolutions recognizing human rights to water and access to health services in 2010, it prompted many states to incorporate these rights into their national legislation. It has also mobilized billions of dollars to increase investment in water infrastructure, which has greatly improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people, added Agnes Kallamar. – Recognition of the right to a healthy environment can stimulate similar changes in states’ approaches to climate change. We call on all RDP Member States to take this opportunity to expand the RPL’s work to combat the climate crisis, one of the most difficult and urgent human rights problems in history. “