On Friday, 8 October 2021, the UN Human Rights Council issued its Resolution 48/13, which recognizes the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. On the same day, in its Resolution 48/14, the Human Rights Council also established the office of a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.
The recognition of the human right to a healthy environment in Resolution 48/13 has been hailed as a major success for efforts to ensure that human rights law can adequately respond to environmental harms, and especially to the harms associated with climate change. The succinct resolution ‘[r]ecognizes the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights’ (§ 1), notes its interrelationship with other human rights (§ 2), and encourages States to capacity-build, cooperate, share good practices, adopt policies, and continue to take into account their environmental human rights obligations and commitments (§ 3).
In addition, the Human Rights Council’s Resolution 48/14 has simultaneously created the office of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change for a period of three years. The Special Rapporteur, who has not yet been appointed, will study the adverse effect of climate change on human rights, identify challenges, synthesize knowledge, promote and exchange views and best practices, raise awareness, seek views and contributions from States and other relevant stakeholders, facilitate the exchange of technical assistance, capacity-building and cooperation, coordinate with other actors, conduct country visits, participate in relevant events, integrate a gender-responsive, age-sensitive, disability inclusive and social-inclusion perspective, participate in the creation of standards for corporate actors, coordinate closely with other Special Rapporteurs in related thematic areas, and report to the Human Rights Council annually. The Resolution also requests the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council to prepare a report, in close cooperation with the new Special Rapporteur, on the impact of new climate protection technologies on human rights.
On the EJIL:Talk! Blog, Annalisa Savaresi has summarized these developments, discussing the various advantages of the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment. This includes improved access to justice, a strengthened basis for activism and the foundation for legislative protections of environmental interests. Overall, the recognition of this right is also described as drawing increased attention to environmental harms and issues.