UN experts: UN General Assembly must affirm right to healthy environment

OHCHR

With the world embroiled in a multi-faceted environmental crisis, UN experts* today urged the United Nations General Assembly to recognise that living in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a fundamental human right.

On 27 June, a group of five States – Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland – proposed a resolution to UN member States for decision by the General Assembly. The resolution will be discussed in the weeks ahead, with adoption anticipated in late July.

In a landmark resolution adopted in October 2021, the Human Rights Council recognised for the first time the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The resolution was the culmination of efforts spanning decades by a diverse array of civil society organisations, youth groups, national human rights institutions, and indigenous peoples.

The UN experts encouraged States to act upon the Human Rights Council’s invitation that ‘the General Assembly […] consider the matter’ of the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment at its earliest convenience.

A General Assembly resolution on the right to a healthy environment would catalyse urgent and accelerated action to achieve environmental justice, by addressing the climate crisis, protest and restore nature and end toxic pollution, the experts said.

They recalled that in June, the Stockholm+50 conference recommended that States “recognise and implement the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment”. This action is supported by all UN agencies and remains a priority for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as reflected in Our Common Agenda and the Call to Action on Human Rights, the experts said.

The UN experts also highlighted a joint statement by a group of over 50 experts to mark World Environment Day in 2021, acknowledging that around the world, there was growing recognition that it was indeed a human right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. “Of the UN’s 193 members, 156 have written this right into constitutions, legislation and regional treaties, and it is time for the United Nations General Assembly to provide leadership by recognising that every human is entitled to live in a healthy environment,” the joint statement said.

“The lives of billions of people on this planet would improve if such a right were recognised, respected, protected and fulfilled,” the UN experts said.

“We are all extraordinarily fortunate to live on this miraculous planet, and we must use the right to a healthy environment to ensure governments, businesses and people do a better job of taking care of the home that we all share.”

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