UN says access to a ‘clean, healthy’ environment is a human right

Despite criticism from some countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, the new resolution — proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland — was passed ahead of the UNHCR session with significant support from 43 votes, according to a press release. . Russia, India, China and Japan abstained.

The vote — it comes weeks before the crucial COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland — also created a special rapporteur role to address the human rights impacts of climate change. Special Rapporteurs are independent human rights experts with “mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective,” according to the intergovernmental organization.

Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that “recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is about protecting people and the planet – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.”

Bachelet added that she felt “happy” with the way the decision “clearly recognizes environmental degradation and climate change as interconnected human rights crises.”

She continued: “Bold action is now required to ensure that this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social and environmental policies that will protect people and nature.”

The vote “recognizes the damage inflicted by climate change and environmental destruction on millions of people around the world,” the press release added. “It also underscores that the most vulnerable parts of the population are more acutely affected.”

Yolande Wright, Global Director of Child Poverty, Climate and Urban at Save the Children, praised the ‘landmark’ resolution in a statement, noting that it could have ‘huge implications for children’s rights to a safe and sustainable future’ .

“Both resolutions passed today by the UN Human Rights Council show that those responsible are finally listening to what children are saying,” Wright added. “Children we work with are increasingly telling us they want to see more action from leaders to mitigate this crisis.”

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, also welcomed the resolution, calling it “a breakthrough moment for environmental justice.”

“The decision, taken today in Geneva, is a shield for individuals and communities against a plethora of risks to their health and livelihoods. Recognition of the right to a healthy environment is a historic milestone in our ongoing work for social and environmental justice,” Andersen said in a statement.

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“It is a message to a billion children with an extremely high risk of the consequences of a changed climate: a healthy environment is your right. No one can take your nature, clean air and water or a stable climate.”

This is not the first time the UN has been pressured to expand its institutions’ mandates to tackle climate change. At a meeting of the UN Security Council on September 24, Ireland made a proposal to add the threat of climate change to the routine Security Council agenda.


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