05 Mar 2024
16:00–17:00

Lieu: Palais des Nations | Room XXV

Organisation: Procédures spéciales du Conseil des droits de l’homme

This side event to the 55th session of the Human Rights Council will discuss the thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on "Businesses, planetary boundaries, and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment".

About this Session

The recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment through UN resolutions has been a historical breakthrough for the people and the planet. In addition, five decades of environmental laws and policies regulating businesses have achieved some important successes, such as the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer from harmful chemicals, advances in protected areas, and the exponential growth of renewable energy.

However, the planetary crisis is getting worse and constitutes the biggest threat to human rights ever faced, because it threatens the rights of everyone alive as well as the rights of future generations. Environmental progress is overwhelmed by the inexorable growth in production, consumption and population.  Decades of unbridled business activity in pursuit of profit and growth have exacerbated inequality, left billions behind, and pushed civilization to the precipice of disaster.

Businesses have the responsibility to respect human rights, including the right to a healthy environment. However, businesses practices around the world have resulted in negative human rights impacts by polluting air, water and soil, causing and exacerbating the climate crisis, devastating biodiversity and ecosystems, producing and marketing unhealthy and unsustainable food, and releasing toxic substances.

Transformative changes to economic and business paradigms are urgently needed to reduce humanity’s collective impact on nature and the associated human rights impacts. In this regard, States and businesses have a critical role to play in supporting society’s quest for a just and sustainable future.

The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment dedicated his thematic report to the 55th session of the Human Rights Council to the topic of Businesses, planetary boundaries, and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  In this report, he evaluates the inadequacies of voluntary normative frameworks for ensuring that businesses respect human rights and clarifies State obligations to protect the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment from harms caused by businesses. The Special Rapporteur concludes that systemic and transformative changes are needed to achieve a just and sustainable future and provides extensive recommendations for States.

This side event will discuss the thematic report of the Special Rapporteur, including in the context of the implementation of the right to a healthy environment as recognized by Human Rights Council Resolution 48/13 and General Assembly resolution 76/300, and to address issues including the following:

  • The impact of businesses on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment;
  • States obligations to protect the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment from harms caused by businesses and good practices, gaps and challenges relating to these obligations;
  • Business responsibilities to respect the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and good practices, gaps and challenges relating to the normative frameworks in place;
  • The role of key actors including governments, businesses, the United Nations, civil society,  Indigenous Peoples, local communities and youth;

The recommendations provided in the report both at the national and international levels and ways forward.

Speakers

By order of intervention.

H.E. Amb. Smiljana KNEZ

Ambassador-at-Large for Climate Change, Slovenia

David BOYD

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment

H.E. Amb. Gustavo GALLÓN

Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN office and other international organizations in Geneva

Andrew PRAG

Managing Director for Policy, We Mean Business Coalition

Joie CHOWDHURY

Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law

Anouska PERRAM

Senior Counsel, Forest Peoples Programme

Diana RIZZOLIO

Coordinator, Geneva Environment Network | Moderator

Highlights

Summary

To be continued.

Opening Remarks

H.E. Amb. Smiljana KNEZ | Ambassador-at-Large for Climate Change, Slovenia

  • For the promotion of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in the business context, a solid legal, national and international framework is a foundation. This is not enough: key principles of good governance — transparency, disclosure, rule of law, anti-corruption efforts — are key building stones for the efficient implementation of the right in the context of businesses, as well as evidence-based approach, reliable information, space for civil society, protection of human rights defenders, awareness raising in human rights education and training.
  • We also witness a growing body in customary law. Litigations are influencing corporate behavior and might advance action on climate change and human rights, although there are still barriers.
  • Highlighting two aspects of the right to a healthy environment in the context of business:
    • Outsourcing of environmentally-destructive business activities to low- and middle-income States where protection of human rights and environment are weaker or not enforced. In the global effort to a green transition, there is a strong temptation to continue with such practices.
    • Rights of women and girls are routinely abused by promoting harmful stereotypes and polluting air and soil.
  • In Slovenia, the first national action plan on business and human rights was adopted in 2018, and the second edition in 2021.
  • Slovenia is also one of the first in the European Union (EU) to make green public procurement mandatory.
  • The country also supports the proposal for a new EU directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, and still hope for its adoption. It will significantly reshape corporate due diligence obligations regarding human rights and environmental standards in the EU and beyond.
  • We believe it is necessary to transform the existing economic paradigm. Human rights and the environment must take precedence over profit.
  • The adoption of mandatory measures for the most influential companies can and might prevent human rights abuses and depletion of our planet for economic interests. We advocate for a socially responsible and ethical economy with a just transition that respect human rights while promoting sustainable development.

Panel Discussion

  • David BOYD | UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment
  • H.E. Amb. Gustavo GALLÓN | Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN office and other international organizations in Geneva
  • Joie CHOWDHURY | Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law
  • Andrew PRAG | Managing Director for Policy, We Mean Business Coalition
  • Anouska PERRAM | Senior Counsel, Forest Peoples Programme

Video

Environment @ HRC55

The 55th regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC55) is taking place in Geneva and online from 26 February to 5 April 2024. This regularly updated page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session.

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Photo Credit © Garth Lenz