UN passes resolution that clean, healthy environment is a fundamental human right

Having access to a clean, healthy environment is a basic right every human being should have. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recently passed this resolution during the 47-member council’s autumn session.

By making a healthy environment a fundamental right, the new resolution acknowledges the "damage inflicted by climate change and environmental destruction on millions of people across the world" with the vulnerable population facing the heaviest brunt.

It is also a significant step in the fight against the triple planetary crisis - climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste - we are facing.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 13.7 million deaths a year are linked to the environment, caused by air pollution, chemical exposure, etc.

Resolution 48/13 was proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland. It also got alot of support from more than 1,300 civil society organizations, indigenous peoples’ groups, 15 UN agencies, young activists and business groups.

However, in the lead up to the adoption of the resolution, it received heavy criticism from Britain and the United States along with Brazil and Russia.

It was passed with the overwhelming support of 43 votes in favour and 4 abstentions from Russia, India, China and Japan.

The issue will now go to the UN General Assembly in New York for further consideration.

This resolution comes weeks before the start of a crucial climate that is slated to take place in November in Glasgow, Scotland - the COP26.

“The Human Rights Council’s decisive action in recognising the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is about protecting people and planet – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. It is also about protecting the natural systems which are basic preconditions to the lives and livelihoods of all people, wherever they live,” the High Commissioner said.

“Bold action is now required to ensure this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social and environmental policies that will protect people and nature,” she added.

“We must not stop now,” says Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group, a think tank focused on international human rights policy.

“Our next stop must be the recognition of this new universal right by the General Assembly. Thereafter, we need the amazing global coalition built over the last two years to keep pushing, so that this historic moment at the UN translates into real improvements in people’s lives and the environment."

The UNHRC also passed another resolution - 48/14. The Council has established a Special Rapporteur that focuses on "the human rights impacts of climate change".

This person, with a three-year post, will monitor “how the adverse effects of climate change, including sudden and slow-onset disasters, affect the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.”

It was passed with 42-1. Russia objected, and China, Eritrea, India and Japan abstained.

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