United Nations General Assembly declares access to a clean and healthy environment a universal human right |

The resolution, based on a similar text adopted last year by the Human Rights Council, calls on states, international organizations and businesses to step up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the “historic” decision and said that historical development demonstrates that member states can unite in the collective struggle against the triple global crisis of climate change, the loss of biodiversity and pollution.

“The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, fill protection gaps and empower people, especially those in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, young people, women and indigenous peoples. “he said in a statement released by his spokesman.

He added it the decision will also help states speed up the implementation of their environmental and human rights obligations and commitments.

“The international community has universally recognized this right and has brought us closer to making it a reality for all,” he said.

Guterres stressed that, however, the adoption of the resolution “is only the beginning” and urged nations to make this newly recognized right “a reality for everyone, everywhere”.


Young climate activists attend demonstrations at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
UN News / Laura Quiñones

Young climate activists attend demonstrations at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Urgent action is needed

In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also hailed the decision of the Assembly and echoed the appeal of the Secretary General for an urgent intervention to implement it.

“Today is a historic moment, but simply affirming our right to a healthy environment is not enough. The resolution of the General Assembly is very clear: States must implement their international commitments and intensify their efforts to achieve them. We will all suffer far worse effects than environmental crises if we don’t work together to collectively avoid them now, “she said.

Ms Bachelet explained that environmental action based on human rights obligations provides vital barriers to economic policies and business models.

“It highlights the foundation of legal obligations to act, rather than just discretionary policy. It is also more effective, legitimate and sustainable, “she added.

A resolution for the entire planet

The text, originally presented by Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland last June, and now co-sponsored by over 100 countries, notes that the right to a healthy environment is linked to existing international law and states that its promotion it requires the full implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.

It also recognizes that the impact of climate change, the unsustainable management and use of natural resources, air, soil and water pollution, the mishandling of chemicals and waste and the consequent loss of biodiversity interfere with the enjoyment of this right – and that environmental damage has negative implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of all human rights.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Mr. David Boyd, the Assembly’s decision will change the very nature of international human rights law.

“Governments have promised to clean up the environment and tackle the climate emergency for decades, but having the right to a healthy environment changes people’s perspective from ‘begging’ to asking governments to act,” he told UN recently. News.


The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland is naturally formed from melted glacial water and is constantly growing as large blocks of ice crumble from a shrinking glacier.
UN News / Laura Quiñones

The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland is naturally formed from melted glacial water and is constantly growing as large blocks of ice crumble from a shrinking glacier.

A victory in preparation for five decades

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the environment in Stockholm, which ended with its own historic declaration, was the first to place environmental issues at the center of international concerns and marked the start of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries. development on the link between economic growth, air, water and ocean pollution and the well-being of people around the world.

The member states of the United Nations then declared that people have a fundamental right to “a quality environment that allows a life of dignity and well-being”, calling for concrete action and the recognition of this right.

Last October, after decades of work by nations at the forefront of climate change, like the Maldives archipelagoin addition to more than 1,000 civil society organizations, the Human Rights Council has finally recognized this right and asked the UN General Assembly to do the same.

“From a foothold in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, the law has been integrated into constitutions, national laws and regional agreements. Today’s decision elevates the right in its place: universal recognition, “UN Environment Chief Inger Andersen explained in a statement released Thursday.

The recognition of the right to a healthy environment by these UN bodies, while not legally binding, which means that countries have no legal obligation to comply, should be a catalyst for action and empower ordinary people to hold their governments accountable.

“So, the recognition of this right is a victory we should celebrate. My thanks to the Member States and to the thousands of civil society organizations and indigenous peoples groups and to the tens of thousands of young people who have relentlessly supported this right. But now we have to build on this victory and implement the law, ”added Ms Andersen.


Restoring natural habitats can help address climate and biodiversity crises.
CIFOR / Terry Sunderland

Restoring natural habitats can help address climate and biodiversity crises.

Triple response to the crisis

As recalled by the Secretary General of the United Nations, the newly recognized right will be crucial to address the triple planetary crisis.

This refers to the three main interrelated environmental threats that humanity currently faces: climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, all of which are mentioned in the text of the resolution.

Each of these problems has its causes and effects and must be solved if we are to have a sustainable future on Earth.

The consequences of climate change are becoming more and more evident, due to the greater intensity and severity of drought, water scarcity, fires, sea level rise, floods, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms and the decline of biodiversity.

Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the leading cause of disease and premature death worldwide, with more than seven million people dying prematurely each year from pollution.

Finally, the decline or disappearance of biological diversity – which includes animals, plants and ecosystems – has an impact on food supply, access to clean water and life as we know it.

* States that abstained: China, Russian Federation, Belarus, Cambodia, Iran, Syria, Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia.

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