On the sidelines of the 55th session of the Human Rights Council, the Geneva Rights and Environment Talks aimed to harness the opportunity of this moment of the year to reflect on the challenges posed by the rapid decline of nature and biodiversity, and on how Geneva contributes to bringing together the actors working towards ensuring the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is upheld for all. This session launches the first series of the Geneva Rights and Environment Talks.

About this Session

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, has warned in his 2023 report to the UN General Assembly “Paying polluters: the catastrophic consequences of investor-State dispute settlement for climate and environment action and human rights” (A/78/168), of the devastating effects of Investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) on a wide range of human rights, environmental and climate consequences.

Investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS), referred to as the “secretive international arbitration process”, has become a major obstacle to urgent actions needed to address the planetary environmental and human rights crises. If security for investments can be legitimate, foreign investors now use the dispute settlement process to seek exorbitant compensation from States that strengthen environmental protection, with the fossil fuel and mining industries already winning over $100 billion in awards. Such cases create regulatory chill, undermining States’ actions and sovereignty, even down to the level of regions and cities.

ISDS arbitration tribunals’ practice over the years shows how they routinely prioritize foreign investment and corporate interests above human rights, human health, the environment and good governance. ISDS claims have then devastating consequences for a wide range of human rights, exacerbating the disproportionate harms suffered by vulnerable and marginalized populations.

The overwhelming majority of fossil fuel and mining ISDS claims are brought by investors from the global North against States in the global South. As a consequence, the ISDS system has especially devastating consequences for the global South, perpetuating extractivism and economic colonialism.

This session discussed the current ISDS impacts, its trends, and the specific actions that States must take to avoid future claims under the Investor-State dispute settlement process and fulfill their human rights obligations that the UN Special Rapporteur has identified in his report to the UN General Assembly.

About the Geneva Rights and Environment Talks

In the face of the three interrelated environmental crises — climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution — the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment by the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly is an important milestone that puts environmental issues at the forefront of the human rights agenda.

The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment reports to the Human Rights Council during its March session on issues related to his mandate. The Geneva Rights and Environment Talks aim to harness the opportunity of this moment of the year to reflect on the challenges posed by the rapid decline of nature and biodiversity and the intertwined human rights implications. The talks are also an opportunity to discuss how Geneva contributes to bringing together the actors working towards ensuring the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is upheld for all.

Speakers

David BOYD

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment

Kamelia KEMILEVA

Co-Director, Global Cities Hub

Helionor DE ANZIZU

Staff Attorney, International Trade and Investment Law, Center for International Environmental Law

Josef OSTŘANSKÝ

Policy Adviser, Economic Law and Policy Program, International Institute for Sustainable Development

Yves LADOR

Representative of Earthjustice to the United Nations in Geneva | Moderator

Diana RIZZOLIO

Coordinator, Geneva Environment Network

Highlights

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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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