UNGA recognizes the right to a healthy environment

On 28 July 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution (A/RES/76/300, not yet published) recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Resolution recognizes the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and its relationship with other human rights and existing norms of international law. It passed without opposition, with 161 States voting in favor and 8 abstentions.

Image courtesy of @UN_News_Centre

The draft of this Resolution was spearheaded by five States (Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland), and it was ultimately co-sponsored by over 100 countries as well as enjoying support from numerous civil society organizations and indigenous peoples’ groups. The opposition was led by Russia, and also included Belarus, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and the Syrian Arab Republic.

This development follows a similar recognition by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2021 (A/HRC/RES/48/13). In its Resolution recognizing this right, the Human Rights Council called on the UNGA to take up the issue. The UNGA’s Resolution responds to this call by taking on a triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. It recognizes the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right, and calls for greater global efforts to protect that right. It calls for full implementation of multilateral environmental treaties, and urges international organizations, corporate actors and other stakeholders to adopt policies, enhance international cooperation, strengthen capacity-building and share good practices to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.

This Resolution is not legally binding. As noted by John Knox, the former UNSR for human rights and the environment, “by itself, it will change no policies, enact no new laws, save no forests, stop no pollution. But it can be a powerful catalyst.” This development follows a lengthy struggle to achieve international recognition of this right, which is missing from the main international human rights treaties. Treaty bodies have instead resorted to the “greening” of existing rights to recognize the nexus between environmental protection and the enjoyment of human rights. The recognition of this right by the UNGA not only serves to underscore this nexus, but reflects domestic legal developments in a large number of jurisdictions, especially the constitutional recognition of this right in many countries. It also reflects the recognition of this right in regional instruments such as the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the San Salvador Protocol, the Aarhus Convention, and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

More information:

For a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David R. Boyd, click here.

For more on delegates’ comments, see here.

A livestream of the UNGA’s meeting is available here.

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