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News Article

Clean, Healthy Environment: A Universal Human Right

By Rodrigo Andrade | Tue, 08/02/2022 - 12:46

The UN General Assembly stated that the access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a universal human right. The resolution was decided with 161 votes in favor and only eight abstentions, setting a precedent in the fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, said António Guterres, Minister-General, UN.

“The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples,” said Guterres in a statement released by his Spokesperson’s Office.

The resolution is based on a text adopted last year by the Human Rights Council, which was originally presented by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland in June 2021. The text calls upon states, international organizations and businesses to increase their actions to ensure a healthy environment.

The call recognizes that environmental factors such as climate change, unsustainable management and use of natural resources, pollution of air, land and water and the loss of biodiversity have a direct and indirect impact on the health and enjoyment of human rights.

The UN’s resolution is expected to lead governments to change environmental and human rights laws, according to David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. “Governments have made promises to clean up the environment and address the climate emergency for decades but having a right to a healthy environment changes people’s perspective from ‘begging’ to demanding governments to act,” reported UN News.

This resolution was urgent due to the triple environmental crisis the world faces caused by rapid climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the pervasive toxic pollution killing 9 million per year, said Boyd. “We need transformative changes to society. We need to quickly shift to renewable energy. We also need to shift to a circular economy, and we need to detoxify society. The right to a healthy environment is one of the most powerful tools we have to hold governments accountable,” he added.

Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN, praised the decision made by the General Assembly while also making an urgent call for action. “Today is a historic moment, but simply affirming our right to a healthy environment is not enough. The General Assembly resolution is very clear: states must implement their international commitments and scale up their efforts to realize it. We will all suffer much worse effects from environmental crises if we do not work together to collectively avert them now.”

Economic policies and business models can be greatly shifted by this decision. “It emphasizes the underpinning of legal obligations to act, rather than simply of discretionary policy.  It is also more effective, legitimate and sustainable,” said Bachelet.

The triple planetary crisis caused by climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss has led to water scarcity, wildfires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, storms and declining diversity, which impact directly and indirectly humans around the world.

Photo by:   Hermann
Rodrigo Andrade Rodrigo Andrade Junior Journalist & Industry Analyst