In this advisory opinion, requested by Colombia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognized that the right to a healthy environment is a human right for a first time, and affirmed that human rights are dependent on a healthy environment. The Court stated that the adverse effects of climate change, as well as environmental degradation, have an adverse effect on human rights. The advisory opinion finds that States have an obligation to take measures to prevent environmental harms both within their borders, and in transboundary scenarios and thus extraterritorially.
While the right to a healthy environment had previously been recognized in Article 11 of the Protocol of San Salvador, this right is not subject to individual petition. In its advisory opinion, the Court recognized a justiciable right to a healthy environment by finding that this right is part of the right to progressive development in Article 26 of the American Convention. This includes protection of the environment as such, with the Court noting in para. 62 of its advisory opinion that “as an autonomous right, the right to a healthy environment, unlike other rights, protects the components of the environment, such as forests, rivers and seas, as legal interests in themselves, even in the absence of the certainty or evidence of a risk to individuals.”
In addition, the Court engaged with the obligations of the State with regard to the principles of prevention, and precaution, duties of cooperation and the procedural rights derived from obligations to respect and to ensure human rights.
15 November 2017.
Click here to read the full text of the advisory opinion.
IACtHR, Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 on the Right to a Healthy Environment of 15 November 2017.
For more on this advisory opinion, see for example:
Maria Antonia Tigre and Natalia Urzola, ‘The 2017 Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion: changing the paradigm for international environmental law in the Anthropocene’, 12(1) Journal of Human Rights and the Environment (2021), available here.