29 Oct The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is recognized as a universal human right
The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is recognized as a universal human right
On October 5th, the UN’s Human Rights Council passed Resolution 48/13 (the Resolution) recognizing access to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right.
The UN Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system which is responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council consists of 47 UN Member States, representing every region of the world. Resolutions of the Council represent the position of the Council’s members (or at a majority of them) on particular issues and situations. In this case, the adoption of the Resolution was unanimous.
What does the Resolution say?
The Resolution recognizes the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights, as well as noting that this right is related to other rights under existing international law (sections 1 and 2). The Resolution also encourages states to (section 3):
- To build capacity for the efforts to protect the environment in order to fulfill their human rights obligations and commitments, and to enhance cooperation with other states, the UN system, international and regional organizations/agencies/programmes/etc., and relevant non-state stakeholders such as civil society.
- To continue to share good practices in fulfilling human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This includes exchanging knowledge and ideas; building synergies between the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment; bearing in mind an integrated and multi-sectorial approach; and considering that efforts to protect the environment must fully respect other human rights obligations.
- To adopt policies for the enjoyment of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment including with respect to biodiversity and ecosystems.
- To 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.
The Resolution also asks that the UN General Assembly consider the matter of an environmental right as a universal human right (section 4).
What will be the impact of the Resolution?
According to David Boyd (UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment), the Resolution “should be a catalyst for more ambitious action on every single environmental issue that we face” (see October 15, 2021 UN News Article).
While the Resolution is not legally binding, it does represent a strong political commitment by the members of the UN Human Rights Council. This Resolution has the potential to trigger governments around the world to adopt and implement the right to a healthy and sustainable environment into their domestic law. According to the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, the Resolution is “a breakthrough moment for environmental justice that will help shield individuals and communities from risks to their health and livelihoods” (see October 14, 2021 News Release from UNEP).
The Environmental Law Centre has done a considerable amount of work in the area of environmental rights and we are thrilled with this development. It is our hope that this environmental right will be adopted and implemented into Canada’s domestic law leading to stronger environmental outcomes.
See the Environmental Law Centre’s work on environmental rights
The Environmental Law Centre is also a partner in the Reimagining Rivers Webinar Series in association with the Centre for Constitutional Studies which investigates how our legal system reflects and protects nature.
Reimagining Rivers: Animals as Legal Beings – Contesting Anthropocentric Legal Orders
Professor Maneesha Deckha and Assistant Professor Jessica Eisen
October 29, 2021. More information and link to register
Reimagining Rivers: Indigenous Jurisdiction and the Environment
Professor Darcy Lindberg and Lawyer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson
Watch the Presentation from June 10, 2021 Here
Reimagining Rivers: Magpie River as Person
Yenny Vega Cárdenas, President of the Observatoire international des droits de la nature/ International Observatory of Nature Rights
Watch the Presentation from June 03,2021 Here
ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTRE:
The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to advocate for laws that will sustain ecosystems and ensure a healthy environment and to engage citizens in the laws’ creation and enforcement. Our vision is a society where our laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations and supports ecosystem health.
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