UN General Assembly Recognizes Right to a Healthy Environment

July 28, 2022 -- The United Nations General Assembly made an historic, groundbreaking move, declaring that everyone on this planet has the right to a healthy environment. 

The General Assembly adopted Resolution A/76/L.75, recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. “This resolution sends a message that nobody can take nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate away from us – at least not within a fight,” noted Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The General Assembly action follows the adoption of Resolution 48/13 by the UN Human Rights Council on October 8, 2021, explicitly recognizing that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right and calling for the General Assembly to consider the matter.  Currently, some 150 countries already recognize a right to a healthy environment through their national law (constitutions, legislation, or policies) or by ratification of international instruments.

Both the UN Human Rights Council and now the General Assembly recognize that those people who almost certainly are contributing the least to environmental degradation often are at the highest risk of experiencing its worst impacts on human rights.

The General Assembly Resolution recognizes that:

“[W]hile the human rights implications of environmental damage are felt by individuals and communities around the world, the consequences are felt most acutely by women and girls and those segments of population that are already in vulnerable situations, including indigenous peoples, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

Significantly, the General Assembly Resolution also recognizes that environmental damage has terrible direct and indirect negative implications “for the effective enjoyment of all human rights.”  It specifically recognizes that “environmental degradation, climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification and unsustainable development constitute some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to effectively enjoy all human rights.”

While UN General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, this action is expected to provide strong and urgently needed support for indigenous peoples, civil societies, and others to press their governments for much more aggressive climate action—the sooner the better. David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the environment stated before the vote that “[t]hese resolutions may seem abstract, but they are a catalyst for action and they empower ordinary people to hold their governments accountable in a way that is very powerful.”

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Released on : 27 Jul 2022 07:55 PM EDT
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