31 Aug 2022
13:00–15:00

Venue: Centre International de Conférences Genève (CICG) & Online | Webex

Organization: Geneva Environment Network, International Association for Ecology

Bridging the INTECOL and Geneva communities together, the Geneva Environment Networking Bars will be held in the margins of INTECOL 2022: “Frontiers in Ecology: Science and Society” from 28 August to 2 September 2022. These networking sessions open to Geneva stakeholders discussed topics that are at the center of the global environmental agenda. As part of the 8th edition of Festival Alternatiba Léman taking place at the same time, this session focused on the opportunities to tackle the triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Geneva: Global Hub for Environmental Governance 

Environmental issues entered the international agenda in the early 1970s, but even prior to that, institutions based in the Geneva region have greatly contributed to develop the global environmental governance system. Since then, the Geneva region has hosted various historical meetings and negotiations, and welcomed new organizations focusing on environmental-related issues.  

Today, the “Grand Genève” region, where many international organizations, forums, federations and non-governmental organizations have their headquarters, continues its role as an important center for international environmental policy. 

INTECOL 2022 in Geneva

The International Congress of Ecology 2022 (INTECOL 2022), hosted by the University of Geneva and its partners, will take place from 28 August to 2 September 2022 at the CICG Geneva – Geneva International Conference Center in Geneva, under the theme “Frontiers in Ecology: Science and Society”. 

Geneva welcoming INTECOL 2022 is therefore an opportunity to link the INTECOL and Geneva international communities on topics that are at the center of the global environmental agenda.

Two hybrid networking sessions – Geneva Environment Networking Bars – open to Geneva communities were proposed in the margins of INTECOL 2022. These sessions were facilitated by the Geneva Environment Network (GEN) and the University of Geneva. Another session involving key Geneva-based institutions, looked at private nature-finance approaches, including public incentives for private finance.

About this Session

In the face of the triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss, this session focused on the opportunities to tackle the intertwined environmental challenges we face today.

The 8th edition of the Festival Alternatiba Léman is taking place in Geneva the same week of INTECOL 2022. This is an opportunity to have a common event, looking at the interlinkages and synergies addressing the triple planetary crisis, involving actors attending these events and international Geneva. Alternatiba showcases concrete means and solutions for reducing emissions, through conferences, exhibits, stands, workshops and practical demonstrations, among others, with the participation of numerous local actors. INTECOL 2022 gathers experts from all over the world to discuss environmental issues, global climate challenges, energy and territorial development.

This session was also an opportunity to showcase Geneva as a global hub to tackle the interrelated triple planetary crisis. Climate and biodiversity are at the core of numerous discussions and negotiations held in the city. Numerous actors from international Geneva do contribute to global climate and biodiversity negotiations.

Geneva is also the UN hub for chemicals and waste governance, with numerous actors addressing this issue. Pollution is identified as one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. Therefore, it is important to look at these challenges and solutions in a synergistic way in order to address them effectively. There are a number of international initiatives already underway with integrated approaches across the biodiversity, climate, and chemicals and waste communities to ensure cooperative action. There are many lessons that have been learned from the wider cooperation, synergies and agendas.

Speakers

David BOYD

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (through video message)

Sandra AVEROUS-MONNERY

Acting, Head, Knowledge and Risk Unit, Chemicals and Health Branch, UNEP

Dina IONESCO

Manager at the United Nations Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC)

Dorsa SHEIKHOLESLAMI

Nature-based Solutions Programme Officer, IUCN

Yves LADOR

Representative of Earthjustice to the United Nations in Geneva

Diana RIZZOLIO

Coordinator, Geneva Environment Network | Moderator

Summary

Welcome and Introduction

Diana Rizzolio, Coordinator of the Geneva Environment Network

“The truth is, we have been poor custodians of our fragile world. Today, the Earth is facing a triple planetary crisis: climate disruption, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution and waste. The triple crisis is threatening the well-being and survival of millions of people around the world… putting the sustainable development goals in jeopardy. But there is still hope.”
— UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in video message on International Mother Earth Day

The Right to a Healthy Environment

David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

  • What does the UNGA recognition to the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment mean?
    • Having the right to breathe clean air, to safe and sufficient water, to healthy and sustainably produced food, to non-toxic environments where people can live, work, study and play, to healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, and to a safe, livable climate.
    • It comes with a toolbox that includes access to environmental information, participation in decision making, and access to justice.
  • It was recognized in law by more than 155 countries across the world; now it belongs to everyone. The rights-based approach to the triple planetary crisis not only is a catalyst for accelerated action but it places our attention on the most vulnerable and marginalized. It enables them and us to hold governments accountable to their commitments.
  • UN resolutions of this nature are not mere paper tigers: the 2010 resolution on the rights to water and sanitation was a catalyst for legal changes and changes on the ground to deliver safe drinking water across this planet. I hope we can work together to implement everyone’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Soundly Managing Chemicals and Waste and Preventing Pollution

Sandra AVEROUS-MONNERY | Acting, Head, Knowledge and Risk Unit, Chemicals and Health Branch, UNEP

Overview of international governance of chemicals and pollution

  • Multilateral Environmental Agreements: Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions (BRS Conventions), Minamata Convention on mercury, Montreal Protocol on ozone action, Strategic Action for International Chemicals Management covering the holistic aspects of chemicals and potential wastes.
  • Achievements at the 5th UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA-5):

Chemicals and waste is cross-cutting. Each of the clusters under chemicals and waste management demonstrates a strong link with the different SDGs, from the world of work to biodiversity to sustainable consumption, among others. Some examples of the impacts of unsound management of chemicals and wastes on biodiversity include:

  • Land degradation is often linked to informal mining or poorly regulated small-scale gold mining operations that use mercury
  • Insecticides used in agriculture that greatly affect bee populations
  • Marine plastic pollution that affect our ocean and the health of organisms below and above water
  • Industrial waste and discharge that affect the health of organisms and ecosystems

Ongoing initiatives to tackle the triple planetary crisis

Tackling Climate Change

Dina IONESCO | Manager at the United Nations Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC) 

Highlighting five messages

1. Tackling climate change on a global governance level

  • With COP27 in Egypt coming soon, it is important to remember that this event is a global long-term process where all other global governance processes will be present in various spaces – pollution, gender, biodiversity, indigenous peoples, oceans. The UNFCCC process offers a space with tools for States to cooperate at a multilateral level to preempt the adverse effects of climate change, including technical spaces to support them, for example, in National Adaptation Plans.
  • Regional cooperation is also highlighted in the process as a way to bring together a wide variety of partners, including communities directly impacted by climate change.
  • There are key messages on ramping up finance for climate, having a global goal on adaptation as seein in the Paris Agreement, the implementation of the work program on mitigation as continued in the work at Glasgow, and defining the needs of the most vulnerable alongside discussions of loss and damage in economic, social and cultural terms.

2. Climate change affects other crises and other international governance processes

  • Compared to ten to twenty years ago, climate change is now in the agenda of various international governance processes: water resources, ocean, ecosystems, land management, disaster risk reduction, urbanization, internal displacement and migration.
  • Talking about the international governance of climate change involves other process of international governance and of management of resources.

3. Social and human dimensions of climate change have been highlighted more prominently in the process

  • Climate change process does not only deal with it from the scientific perspective, but looking at it with nature at the heart of discussions on the human and social dimensions of climate change.
  • An example is from the Climate Vulnerable Forum that places migrants as key actors of climate action through “Migrants for Climate”. Bangladesh’s release of its “Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan” shows big vision programs on how to be transformative in the climate action. The latest Kampala Ministerial Declaration on Migration, Environment and Climate Change is a historical declaration that recognizes the importance of migration in the context of climate change in the East Africa region.

4. Vulnerability and resilience are at the heart of the latest IPCC reports

  • In comparison to past IPCC reports, latest research contextualizes the effects of climate change on populations and ecosystems, especially how it affects the most vulnerable and how this impacts operationally the responses we bring.

5. The humanitarian side and the question of sustainability are one of the biggest changes to come about in discussions of climate change

  • There are interesting practices in connecting finance to the question of clean energy, and how the UN being committed to such practices.
  • At the IOM, the work of the Global Platform for Action for clean energy for displaced population, where concrete action has been done, in South Sudan for example, to finance the humanitarian hub through new energy procurement modalities in the humanitarian sector and leveraging the work with private sector.

Leveraging Nature

Dorsa SHEIKHOLESLAMI | Nature-based Solutions Programme Officer, IUCN 

IUCN and leveraging nature

  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership unit and is compromised of over 1,400 governmental and non-governmental agencies and indigenous peoples group, active with implementing projects in over 160 countries and with producing and generating knowledge, being on the frontlines of policymaking at national and global level.
  • IUCN is at the frontlines of conservation action and the evolution of the concept. Before, conservation meant protecting nature for nature’s sake and keeping people out of it, due to rapid development and exploitation of natural resources.

Nature-based Solutions: to achieve the SDGs, we need to work with people and nature

  • Adopted at the World Conservation Congress in 2016 by IUCN members, NbS focuses on the sustainable use of ecosystems to provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits, keeping the needs of both people nature in mind. Definition can be found in Resolution 069.
  • The definition has been gaining acceptance as seen in research across the scientific communities, and in globally-adopted definitions by the European Union and the UN Environment Assembly that built on the IUCN definition. This can also be seen in efforts by the private and public sector.

IUCN builds on the definition of NbS as a global standard

  • The standard provides a framework for designing, implementing, monitoring sustainable interventions to help inform policy decisions. The criteria and definitions set up do not only focus on the challenges or net biodiversity, but are the core of the standards, and informed by aspects of sustainability.

NbS builds upon the knowledge and expertise of vast groups of experts and communities, while understanding their needs and context

  • Collaboration and breaking silos become key: we need to work with different groups from indigenous peoples, scientists to investors, to achieve climate and biodiversity targets.
  • In a work with the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 NbS project, it brings together different actors working across a vast range of targets, bringing, generating and consolidating knowledge on an online platform that can produce knowledge and inform policies.
  • Another example is the work of Clearing House H2020, which brings together cities to exchange on how to build a healthy environment through a true nature-based urban forestry.

Human Rights and the Triple Planetary Crisis

Yves LADOR | Representative of Earthjustice to the United Nations in Geneva 

How can this issue be tackled in a sector that is not environmental in nature? Even within the field of human rights, you need to break some silos.

The role of the Human Rights Council and the Special Procedures

  • The Special Rapporteur, assigned by members of the Human Rights Council, is an independent investigator that conducts research and produces annual reports to the Council and the UN GA on a specific topic related to human rights.
  • Since recently, the Council has been equipped with a special procedure for each of the three components of the triple planetary crisis:
    • The mandate on toxics and human rights being the oldest at 25 years, which now focuses on waste and pollution. His recent report on the Right to Science in the context of toxic substances goes beyond just the right to enjoy the benefits of science, as it discusses access to science as a basic issue related to the right to life.
    • The mandate on human rights and the environment back in 2012 is a wide mandate as it looks at human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the obstacles to have a global recognition of such.
    • The mandate on climate change and human rights was established in October 2021, where the first report focuses on the impact of climate change on people in vulnerable situations.
    • There are other Special Rapporteurs related to the environment, such as the SR on the rights to water and sanitation, and the SR on the right to food. Though they’re not directly related to the environment, they touch upon issues that relate to environment and human rights.

Right to a Healthy Environment and the next steps

  • Based on a HRC resolution adopted on 8 October 2021 that acknowledged the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the UN General Assembly in New York also recognized this right, with no opposition votes and only 7 abstentions.
  • This is something we have to build on as it sends an important message in a difficult political situation.
  • The next step is for the different approaches of the Special Procedures to work more closely together. As such, the triple planetary crisis is not explicitly on the table at the level of the Council. These are only being taken up implicitly, and the challenge is to work together and have a coherent approach on these elements to bring them out explicitly.
  • The challenge to work on implementation now befalls on States and the Office of the High Commissioner who have been active in pushing to work on the linkages between human rights and the environment. The office has been present in various multilateral negotiations such as in UNFCCC, CBD, BRS, Minamata, among others.

What can we expect from this human rights-based approach, and what can it provide?

  • Brings a human face to these issues. In the humanitarian field for example, one of the repeated issues being brought up is not having a human face to the question of the crisis. Even in negotiations in UNFCCC, we still have quite a problem in having a human face in the discussions. We hope SR Ian Fry will be able to start changing it.
  • Beyond this, SR Marcos Orellana for toxics shows that the environmental approach to take issues of pollutions pollutant by pollutant chemical by chemical is slow. While it has made some changes, there hundreds of thousands of chemicals that may even combine itself, which will make the efforts lag behind significantly. Changing the way we approach the issue will affect the way we deal with human rights.
  • Environmental issues are also issues that affect ecosystems on which we are dependent on. Diplomats don’t always see ecosystem or nature issues as that crucial. In discussions which involve nature, such as hotspots, they are often treated as external issues, forgetting that we are part of the biosphere and the ecosystem.
  • It’s a real problem as even within the human rights system, because of the issue of how one can define people’s and individual rights in a framework where we have to take into consideration that we’re all dependent on ecosystems. We have conceptual challenges when we start considering nature into human rights discussions. An approach like this can help us improve our diagnostics and create dialogues.

Q&A

Q: How can we frame NbS so that using rigorous standards we can make sure that NbS is not misused?

NbS is often regarded as in some ways controversial because it’s been conflated with things like Redd approaches where targets that were not ecologically as explicit as they should have been, were used to remove biodiversity. We still see that today, for example, with the Billion Tree Tsunami in Pakistan where they’re using eucalyptus, where we know from examples monocultures have been planted under the guise of these nature-based solutions, we don’t have good outcomes. This is particularly relevant in the context of the post-2020 framework where many organizations are saying we need to have these more ecological solutions but they should be one and the same if we were implementing higher quality standards.

Dorsa SHEIKHOLESLAMI: All the points that you raised were part of the reason that the global standard was developed: to provide a framework to design sustainable solutions with the use and help of nature and to avoid the misuse of the term. To provide more insight, the cases you mentioned — monoculture or the use of wrong types of species in the wrong sites, for example — for Criterion III: net gain and biodiversity, under the indicators, you’ll be able to do a baselining of the historic species in that site.

This means that you cannot just work on one species, nor with species that do not belong there. This is also supported by other criteria, such as design informed by scale. This means that in designing interventions, you need to think beyond your site, have a holistic view, and see how these are affecting around them not only geographically, but economically, culturally and socially.

Q: How can jurisprudence as well as larger global public policy be framed to accommodate diverse interests of both state and non-state actors?

The three dimensions we are discussing today are all in conflict with some business opportunities. UN has a framework ten years ago which is still in process, the Ruggie framework that tackles business accountability and human rights.

Yves LADOR: On the Ruggie Principles, there has been some progress. Let’s be very clear: the Ruggie Principles are voluntary guidelines which are progressing and improving. For example, within the EU, the question of accountability is taking much more weight. We see a number of real effective progress. Is that enough? Absolutely not. That’s the drama it has when you see all the efforts which are behind. We are progressing but we have so far to go right now. In a situation of urgency, that’s where indeed we definitely have some worries.

On stockpiles, not only do we have to improve, but we have to stop some of the productions. Some productions today should not be allowed anymore because they are too dangerous. This needs to be said because there is some kind of assumption that says everything is tolerable, and we just have to see how we manage a bit better. We have this issue for toxics but we have the same questions in climate change with geoengineering. We’re seeing a very strong push now, where some are saying geoengineering can be done with a social approach. No. Stop it. A number of things in industrial development must be stopped. Full stop. In addition, when indigenous people have sovereignty on their own land if they say no, no is no.

These are issues we must push back again and again. It’s a very tough fight now, but we have some progress. Going back to the question of business and voluntary guidance which is far from being enough, what is interesting it is also feeding a bit into the negotiation which is existing today on legally binding instruments on transnational cooperation and other business enterprises. It’s a very long story and very tough to go forward.

One of the problems is that we’re assuming every product is normal, and we just have to see how we can minimize some of the difficulties. We also have an idea that all enterprises are legitimate, which is far from the truth. This is something that is very difficult to put on the negotiating table because States are always worried about how it’s going to be said, saying that not all state activities are terrible. But torture has been used for so long and so widely, and still is it is not acceptable. It’s not even justifiable.

We have the same issues in the economic and environmental sector and we have to be very clear about that and that’s probably sometimes the link that is missing in some of the discussion and debates. One of the problems as well is precisely the legacy that is left from previous activities but also the legacy we have today and the legacy, for example, of older investments such as infrastructure. For example, the example of hydrogen, where everybody’s worried about climate change, and behind you have a gas business who’s trying to save its own infrastructure. They may say you’re going to use our pipes for hydrogen, but it’s technically not true. You cannot put more than 30 percent of hydrogen in gas pipe at the risk of an explosion or a leak. How do we deal with the legacy when some of the previous investments are not and cannot continue anymore? Yes, we’re going to have some losses but we don’t want to get to that point because we’re still trying basically living a bit in a Disney world. This is part of the challenge: we have to put the real issues on the table.

Q: On the polluter pays principle, especially when it comes to taking care of already existing stockpiles of waste.

We have images of devastating conditions for people living as waste pickers, especially in countries which don’t have the means to take care of this this pollution and because we also export waste to them. Perhaps there are tools to prevent new plastic pollution, but what about taking care of existing pollutions, do you have ideas suggestions on funding by responsible companies that maybe that we know of?

Sandra AVEROUS-MONNERY: This is an element that everybody is aware of and are mobilizing themselves. The objective is really to make sure every actor commits and has a responsibility to respond towards the ongoing Beyond 2020 discussions. What we are trying to put forward as international organizations working on chemicals and waste in particular is an integrated chemicals and waste management. This has elements that are related to three dimensions: (1) a basic chemical management systems in countries, (2) how do you engage the sectors such as the industries, be it textile, electronics, plastics, or construction, to commit to sustainability, to design that would be phasing out chemicals and (3) having business models that lower the waste aspect. Stakeholders are engaged to work on this issue.

On the polluter pays principle, it’s a reality that there are stocks of waste everywhere, and particularly in developing countries who have issues with managing such waste as these can be landfilled or put in illegal places. It is also true that there are exports to waste and that has been recognized in a number of places, such as the BRS COPs in relation to lead acid batteries and the export of second-hand vehicles. There is ongoing work to make sure that there are some standards at the moment of exporting. We definitely have to imagine and work together towards a sustainable solution in the future and deal with the current issues of pollution and waste.

Closing Remarks

The closing remarks are part also a way to address the questions that were raised.

Q: How do you guys see the human rights regime as a practical solution for what I view as sometimes economic or management in nature? How do you bring other parties like the youth, the indigenous into the same level where they actually count?

In the terms of global governance and getting to action, as a representative of the youth, we are more into action and pushing it forward rather than just discussing over the resolutions which are all very notable. I see it as a very notable conceptual basis but as a practical solution, that’s where I see some deficit. I completely agree with the dimensions of the human rights of being more grounded in gender and indigenous community, but I’m somewhat worried about what the fruits of all these Conventions and conferences are, because a lot of this has to do with mismanagement of global corporations, and economics. For example, over 92 percent of virtual water flows are owned by the private sector. So when we go into the table and speak only with states, we are actually missing the big actors the real power and cutters.

Q: When you proclaim a right for a sound environment, if the nuclear plant in Ukraine blows, who am I going to sue? If I am in the Sahara on a trek, and I cannot find water, who am I going to sue?

Safeguarding people’s health and sound environment was the original mission of the state and it has reached its peak in the 19th century with the obsession of hygiene. Saying we have the right to a sound environment is just the same. I don’t see the difference when we try to come to the difference, and it just opens career and creates litigation.

Q: What do the silos look like? From your experience from your working experience, could you name that term and make it a bit more graspable?

Dina IONESCO: We need to be humble about everything and action-oriented our own areas of expertise. Breaking the silos means working across all the SDGs, even with only one in target in mind. Recently, I had the immense pleasure to launch a new master degree on migration, environment and climate change which is about breaking the silos: going interdisciplinary about addressing the major challenges of our lives and opening to the young population different entry doors to this whole governance discussion.

But we have to be realistic. To get to our goal means to focus on practices and actions that make a difference from each of our own perspectives, which are both interesting yet very difficult. The question on global governance and work with business finance opening to civil society and to other stakeholders as been there since the beginning of the climate negotiations but in all other negotiations we see also now the negotiations the leading to the global compact on migrants and on refugees. It’s the same question we talk about as international civil servants and how is our capacity to bring in the voices of people we serve into the discussion. Yet there is this irony that exists wherein all these migration events have people who don’t get the visa to come to speak in our migration events.

It’s totally imperfect but there are many ways to overcome these imperfections. For example, there is a whole accreditation process for non-governmental organizations in these processes. There’s the youth summits pre-COP… There are many ways to try and connect people.

I also find COPs to be an interesting place to see what’s going on at negotiation level. In today’s world we need multilateralism and the COPs have become an incredible hub of innovation, where key players get connected. It’s not perfect, but it remains to be an important avenue for discussion.

On the question of loss and damage, one of the most interesting reports that have come out is from the Vulnerable-20 (V20), 48 countries in a coalition of countries most vulnerable to climate change. It’s the first report that tries to highlight how much of the wealth of these countries has been eliminated can be attributed to climate change. Through their methodology, they found that a fifth of the wealth of V20 countries has been eliminated, and an approximative of USD 525 billion is considered as a loss of this economy because of climate change temperature, precipitation changes, and extreme heat.

There’s a complete also change that we see in the negotiations on loss and damage. It’s a shift on now trying to focus also on finance for loss and damage and countries being able to say how much of the funding they put into different activities can be considered as loss and damage. This is an outcome of Glasgow and that will be very important for the scope and for the Stocktaking COP in one year.

We see these thresholds of changes, where we find these things at governance level that are being translated into climate action in different ways. We have to look for the practices where this is transformed.

We should always acknowledge what is not working and try to address it, but the level of eco-anxiety today is something we have to be careful about. We can easily say it’s too big and we can’t do anything about it. It doesn’t mean we deny what’s not right but it’s to focus on actions on practices on things that are working together. We tried to bring in very concrete things that are being done that are not perfect and that take long. It’s very frustrating sometimes but let’s focus on action and encourage young people and those who are young in their heads to act at their level in practices that are part of their passions and motivations and professional expertise.

Sandra AVEROUS-MONNERY: On breaking silos, we can take the example of biofuels and the impact that the positive impact it could have on climate change and the potential negative impact it would have on land and on ecosystem integrity, or the rules of the game on bio-based plastics or biodegradable plastics. When it comes to chemicals and waste, these are examples of a regrettable substitution that may have some irreversible damage because it does not think beyond other areas of the environment, human health of human rights.

I wanted to put forward this holistic view of looking at nexus of the three crisis. It’s not easy because it makes the issues more complex but it helps understand the impact of our world and our activities, our needs.

Dorsa SHEIKHOLESLAMI: I want to echo what you have shared with bringing your attention to the concept of transformative change. We know that it’s not as fast as we like it to be but when I look back, things are very different from 10 years ago.

Now when we talk about sustainability it’s not just about how can I keep harvesting from these forests for eternities. We talk about inclusive governance, all different aspects that are fit within sustainability. I don’t see that on a day-to-day basis but these dialogues, policies that are in place show otherwise. From my professional experience, we see this demand for receiving technical assistance for designing nature-based solutions where our biggest demand comes from private sector coupled by governmental agencies. It shows that we are doing we are moving toward that change, changing our mindsets.

Perhaps it’s not fast enough, but we also need to acknowledge this.

Yves LADOR: We do have to agree that we still need to work on the diagnostics. We don’t have a full agreement even against among those here tonight. The debates that happened today here in this building have also reflected that there’s still huge discussions around the diagnostics and that’s also why this discussion is so important. The fact of putting the triple planetary crisis forward is something different than three years ago. We have to change the way we are defining the situation. We need to improve our diagnostic.

One of the very important elements in improving this diagnostic is precisely the IPCC as a model, the IPBES unfortunately is not a panel but a platform and I still think it needs to be improved, but of course it is trying to fulfill a role a bit like the IPCC. I just want to underline that now we are going forward to have a similar panel on the chemical and pollution issues. That’s also very needed and what makes a change with these processes is that the debate finds a place where we can see what is consolidated in science and what is still being debated.

Having a panel allows elements to come together that is cleared by the scientific community, and such info changes the whole public debate.

On the right to a healthy and sustainable environment what makes a huge difference is on the question of legitimacy. What has been recognized by the resolution is not a defined right in the sense that the resolution cannot help you in a suit. That’s been very clear and that was not our purpose either. The whole thing is to say, “Do you have, internationally speaking, a right to a healthy and sustainable environment around the planet?” Well, there was no answer before, and now there is one. Why is there one? Because you have it in so many constitutions, and you have it also very clearly stated in the three human rights systems. The issue is that not all of these national and regional definitions are exactly the same so the process here was not to agree on one definition for everybody but to say yes at the international level universally there is such a right.

That is crucial for so many people because the environment, internationally speaking, is a state-to-state business point. People do not have a capacity to act at the international level on environmental issues. That’s why you should very often have so much human rights issues or you have suits because you cannot go to the Basel Convention and bring a case. There are so many places you cannot do that but you can do that with the human rights treaty mechanisms and it has been done on chemical issues with the human rights committee for example it has been done on a number of issues where people are becoming again actors of this issue- What has been said by this resolution is that it’s not just a state-to-state issue.

What is also very important in the field of environmental law is that there is this notion of public interest – it’s still a very legal battle we have today. You must be able to talk and be active on environmental issues even if you’re not directly personally affected and concerned. That’s crucial because you still have a number of issues in many places in the world where you stand up for environmental issues that are directly affecting you. You’re not? So please shut up. This is something that needs to change if we really want everybody to be active because you cannot on one side and say we must change people’s habit, we must mobilize the population, but they don’t have any rights, so they must not be active on these issues, and that only us the State can make decisions. That is really the recipe for failure.

The question of a right to a healthy and sustainable environment is really bringing the people back into this issue and into the battle. It’s a question of legitimacy, and I think definitely it makes a change. What I see as a real element which show that it makes a change is two weeks ago, while driving in Valais listening to the youth radio where you can’t get anything else, suddenly they give the news on the recognition. I was just amazed! They are talking about that in the last place I would have thought and when we’ve been in many dialogues and even some of the negotiations here it has been taken up. Again, why? Because it’s a change maker in terms of legitimacy. Yes, people have a right to act for the environment. This has been since last month recognized by the General Assembly of the United Nations Yes, it is a change.

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