UN declares a healthy, sustainable environment is a human right

UN declares a healthy, sustainable environment is a human right

On Friday, October 8th, 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council based in Geneva, Switzerland adopted a resolution stating that all humans have a right to a sustainable, clean, healthy, and safe planet for the first time. The motion passed with 43 votes in favor and none against. Abstentions came from China, India, Japan, and Russia.

Read the resolution as adopted. 

The measure was proposed by 22 countries including Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Morocco, North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Island nations like Fiji and the Maldives were also initial backers as they are especially vulnerable to the climate crisis due to rising ocean levels. Pushback came from both the United States and United Kingdom with the UK ultimately voting for the resolution. The US was not able to vote as it is not one of the Council’s 47 members. Legal concerns were cited as the justification.

Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile and now the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that she felt “gratified" by the way in which the motion recognizes that environmental degradation is interconnected to human rights crises and how the most vulnerable segments of the population, including women, children, and Indigenous peoples, are disproportionately affected.

Currently, 13.7 million deaths per year are linked to environmental issues, according to the World Health Organization — about 24 percent of all global deaths annually. These are results of air pollution and chemical exposure, among other things. Now that a clean environment is recognized as a fundamental human right, many leaders and activists hope it will serve as a starting line to push for economic, social, and environmental policies that will conserve nature and protect people. Bold action is the next step to ensure the motion does its job.

This measure comes at a critical time. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) begins on October 31st in Glasgow, Scotland. World leaders will gather to discuss action towards the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Whereas many countries recognize the climate crisis in terms of mitigation, adaptation, and finance, now people must be included. As Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, declares, the resolution is a message to the billions of children around the world. She said, 

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