The Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment
Ana María Pujante Mora
On 28 July 2022 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a historic resolution, Resolution 76/300, declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment a Human Right. More than 161 countries ratified this resolution, which, while not legally binding, serves as a catalyst for action and empowers citizens to hold their governments accountable.
- Recognizes the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right;
- Notes that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is related to other rights and existing international law;
- Affirms that the promotion of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment requires the full implementation of the multilateral environmental agreements under the principles of international environmental law;
- Calls upon States, international organizations, business enterprises and other relevant stakeholders to adopt policies, to enhance international cooperation, strengthen capacity-building and continue to share good practices in order to scale up efforts to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.
Prior to this resolution, the so-called “Framework Principles” were presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, setting out the main human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment:
- States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
- States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in order to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
- States should prohibit discrimination and ensure equal and effective protection against discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
- States should provide a safe and enabling environment in which individuals, groups and organs of society that work on human rights or environmental issues can operate free from threats, harassment, intimidation and violence.
- States should respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in relation to environmental matters.
- States should provide for education and public awareness on environmental matters.
- States should provide public access to environmental information by collecting and disseminating information and by providing affordable, effective and timely access to information to any person upon request.
- To avoid undertaking or authorizing actions with environmental impacts that interfere with the full enjoyment of human rights, States should require the prior assessment of the possible environmental impacts of proposed projects and policies, including their potential effects on the enjoyment of human rights.
- States should provide for and facilitate public participation in decision-making related to the environment, and take the views of the public into account in the decision-making process.
- States should provide for access to effective remedies for violations of human rights and domestic laws relating to the environment.
- States should establish and maintain substantive environmental standards that are non-discriminatory, non-retrogressive and otherwise respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
- States should ensure the effective enforcement of their environmental standards against public and private actors.
- States should cooperate with each other to establish, maintain and enforce effective international legal frameworks in order to prevent, reduce and remedy transboundary and global environmental harm that interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights.
- States should take additional measures to protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable to, or at particular risk from, environmental harm, taking into account their needs, risks and capacities.
- States should ensure that they comply with their obligations to indigenous peoples and members of traditional communities, including by:
- States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in the actions they take to address environmental challenges and pursue sustainable development.
Environmental harms have direct and indirect negative implications for the effective enjoyment of all human rights. Interfering with the enjoyment of rights are the impact of climate change, unsustainable management and use of natural resources, pollution of air, land and water, inadequate management of chemicals and waste, and the resulting loss of biodiversity.
The environment is an essential condition for our very existence. Without adequate environmental conditions we cannot survive, and all other rights are meaningless.