UN Stresses Urgent Action Following ‘Historic’ Decision
With 161 votes in favor and only eight abstentions, the UN General Assembly has officially declared access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment a universal human right. The resolution is meant to call upon states, international organizations and business enterprises to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all.
It’s a development that’s been a long time coming, with the concept first entering onto the UN floor as far back as 1972 with the decision to place environmental issues at the forefront of policies. Even back then, Member States declared that people have a fundamental right to “an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being,” calling for concrete action and the recognition of this right.
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, welcomed the ‘historic’ decision earlier last week and noted that the landmark development demonstrates how Member States can come together in the collective fight against a triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. He also added that the decision will help States accelerate the implementation of their environmental and human rights obligations and commitments.
“The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples”, he said in a statement released by his Spokesperson’s Office.
Guterres underscored 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’.
UN Aligns Human Health with Climate Health in Future Decision-Making
Originally presented by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland last June, and now co-sponsored by over 100 countries, the text notes that the right to a healthy environment is related to existing international law and affirms that its promotion 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, the pollution of air, land and water, the unsound management of chemicals and waste and the resulting loss in biodiversity interfere with the enjoyment of this right.
However, echoing the Secretary-General’s call for action to implement it, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet notes this declaration alone is not enough to drive action. Instead, she explained that environmental action based on human rights obligations provides vital guardrails for economic policies and business models.
“Today is a historic moment, but simply affirming our right to a healthy environment is not enough. The General Assembly resolution is very clear: States must implement their international commitments and scale up their efforts to realize it. We will all suffer much worse effects from environmental crises, if we do not work together to collectively avert them now,” she said.
Although not legally binding, the recognition of the right to a healthy environment by these UN bodies is expected to be a catalyst for action, placing the power in the hands of the general populace to hold their governments and other major decisionmakers accountable for changes in the built environment.