Mise à jour: 29 Sep 2022

Human rights and the environment are intrinsically intertwined: a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential in the enjoyment of our human rights. On 28 July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly declared that everyone on the planet has a right to a healthy environment. This landmark decision is the result of decades of mobilization of various stakeholders. States must now implement their commitments and scale up their efforts. This page aims at listing relevant information, research, data and/or press releases issued by our partners in Geneva and other institutions around the world.

Human Rights and the Environment

Human rights and the environment are intrinsically intertwined: a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential in the enjoyment of our human rights; whilst polluted, hazardous and otherwise unhealthy environments potentially violate our human rights.

Environmental rights are not abstract, remote, irrelevant concepts; they are measurable, prominent and functional aspects of society and its ecology. More than 100 countries incorporate constitutional rights to a healthy environment. When environmental rights are violated, people and the planet suffer from reduced health and well-being.

On 28 July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution declaring that everyone on the planet has a right to a healthy environment. This landmark decision is the result of decades of mobilization of various stakeholders. The resolution, based on a similar text adopted in October 2021 by the Human Rights Council, calls upon States, international organizations, and business enterprises to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all.

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The Role of International Geneva

Geneva is the main international hub on human rights issues and the majority of international universal human rights organs are based here.

United Nations Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. The UN Human Rights Council meets at the UN Office at Geneva.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the leading UN entity on human rights and represent the world’s commitment to the promotion and protection of the full range of human rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. OHCHR is home for secretariats of international human rights treaty bodies and the UN Human Rights Council.

Michelle Bachelet is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, often known as the UN human rights chief.

Treaty Bodies

The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties. Each State party to a treaty has an obligation to take steps to ensure that everyone in the State can enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

Currently, there 10 treaty bodies that are established by nine human rights international treaties and one optional protocol . The treaty bodies are composed of independent experts of recognized competence in human rights, who are nominated and elected for fixed renewable terms of four years by State parties.

Recently, UN human rights experts also welcomed the impending entry into force of the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, lauding it as a ground-breaking pact to fight pollution and secure a healthy environment. The Escazú Agreement also includes strong protections for indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders, at a time when they are subject to unprecedented levels of violence.

Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.

Aarhus Convention

The Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters, hosted by UNECE, is also devoting a part of its work on the protection of environmental defenders. The Escazú convention in Latin America is working in the same direction.

Special Rapporteurs

Special Procedures

There are other types of bodies on human rights such as the Special Procedures who are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.

Special procedure mandate-holders are non-paid and elected for 3-year mandates that can be renewed for another term. They help advance human rights, focusing on different themes, some of which are related to the environment.

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

David R. Boyd is the current Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment with the following mandate:

  • Continue to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
  • Continue to identify, promote and exchange views on good practices relating to human rights obligations and commitments to inform, support and strengthen environmental policy making, especially in the area of environmental protection
  • Promote and report on the realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and to disseminate his findings by, inter alia, continuing to give particular emphasis to practical solutions with regard to their implementation
  • Work on identifying challenges and obstacles to the full realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and protection gaps thereto, including in the context of sustainable development
  • Continue to contribute to and participate in conferences and meetings relevant to the mandate, including at the United Nations Environment Assembly
  • Develop a dialogue with all relevant stakeholders to enhance public awareness of the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a environment
  • Conduct country visits and to respond promptly to invitations from States

Special Rapporteur on the Implications for Human Rights of the Environmentally Sound Management and Disposal of Hazardous Substances and Wastes

Marcos A. Orellana is the current Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes (i.e. toxics).  The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council and undertakes the following main tasks:

  • Conduct research and analysis to be presented in separate thematic reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly;
  • Undertake country visits and reporting on the situation in those countries in relation to the concerns of the mandate;
  • Send letters to governments, business enterprises and other relevant entities regarding  the actual or potential exposure of people to hazardous substances and wastes, and other related implications, such as those related to the lack of information, participation and access to remedies.

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Mary Lawlor is the current Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders with the following mandate:

  • Promote the effective implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in cooperation and dialogue with Governments and other actors
  • Study developments and challenges on the right to promote and protect human rights and seek, receive and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders
  • Integrate a gender perspective and pay particular attention to women human rights defenders

In 2019, a resolution was adopted by consensus at the Human Right Council about the protection of the people who are acting for the environment. It has been followed by a roadmap to see how, at the international level, researchers, academics, states and civil society can join forces in order to make sure that the growing trends of attack against people who are defending the environment including official governmental civil servants, rangers and people from the civil society.

Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation with the following mandate:

  • Focus on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation;
  • Carry out thematic research
  • Undertake country missions
  • Collect good practices
  • Work with development practitioners on the implementation of the rights to water and sanitation

On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change

Ian Fry is the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change with the following mandate:

  • Study and identify how the adverse effects of climate change, affect the full and effective enjoyment of human rights
  • Identify existing challenges, including financial challenges, of States’ efforts
  • Synthesize knowledge, including indigenous and local traditional knowledge, and identify good practices, strategies and policies
  • Promote and exchange views on lessons learned and best practices
  • Raise awareness on the human rights affected by climate change, especially of persons living in developing countries particularly vulnerable
  • Facilitate and contribute to the exchange of technical assistance, capacity-building and international cooperation in support of national efforts
  • Integrate a gender-responsive, age-sensitive, disability inclusive and social-inclusion perspective
  • Work closely with States and relevant stakeholders, including business enterprises to adopt a human rights perspective

At the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in October 2021, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change (resolution 48/14). Thanks to the efforts of the core group behind resolution 47/24, the possibility of creating a new special procedure addressing the adverse impact of climate change was placed on the agenda of the Council, and was adopted with 42 votes in favor, 1 against and 4 abstentions.

At the 49th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2022, Ian Fry was appointed. The Council also requested the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council to conduct a study and to prepare a report, in close cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, on the impact of new technologies for climate protection on the enjoyment of human rights.

Work of the Special Rapporteur

Following his consultation in Geneva with different civil society organizations and States, the Special Rapporteur has identified six thematic priorities that he will focus on during his mandate in his report for at the 50th session of the Human Rights Council on 23 June 2022. These are:

  1. The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of mitigation, adaptation, and financial actions to address climate change, with particular emphasis on loss and damage;
  2. Addressing the human rights implications of climate change displacement including legal protection of people displaced across international borders;
  3. Exploring approaches to enhance climate change legislation, supporting climate change litigation and advancing the principal of intergenerational justice;
  4. Corporate accountability with respect to human rights and climate change;
  5. The protection of human rights through just transition for workers in industries that contribute to climate change; and
  6. Exploring the impacts of new technologies associated with climate change mitigation on human rights. Approaches to finding workable solutions to the complexities of climate change and human rights issues will be developed. The Special Rapporteur will work in collaboration with other special procedures mandate holders and seek inputs from State, civil society organisation, business enterprises and inter-government organisations in the advancement of this work.

Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

In 2001, the Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, as part of the system of thematic Special Procedures. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was renewed by the Commission on Human Rights in 2004, and by the Human Rights Council in 2007. It was most recently renewed in 2019 in resolution 42/20Francisco Cali Tzay was appointed Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in March 2020 and took up the role on 1 May 2020.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples was created to:

  • Promote good practices, including new laws, government programs, and constructive agreements between indigenous peoples and states, to implement international standards concerning the rights of indigenous peoples;
  • Make recommendations and proposals on appropriate measures to prevent and remedy violations of the rights of indigenous peoples;
  • Report on the human rights situations of indigenous peoples around the world;
  • Address specific cases of alleged violations of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Right to a Healthy Environment

 

Historic Resolution at HRC

An appeal to the Human Rights Council to recognize without delay the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was shared with all member states ahead of HRC45. This appeal, entitled “The Time Is Now“, has been signed by more than 1,150 organizations from civil society, social, environmental, youth, gender equality and human rights movements, trade unions, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities, from more than 100 countries. The call was conveyed at HRC46 in a joint NGO statement.

On 9 March 2021, over 60 nations urged the HRC to recognize the right to a healthy environment, moving a step closer towards adding a new universal human right that also benefits the planet to the list. Simultaneously, the UN Environment Programme delivered a joint statement on behalf of 15 UN entities calling for global recognition, implementation, and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

At the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, in October 2021, States recognized, for the first time, that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. Resolution A/HRC/48/13 forwarded by the core group on Human Rights and the Environment – Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – was adopted with 43 votes in favor and 4 abstentions.

UN special rapporteur on human rights and environment David Boyd has called the HRC’s recognition of the human right to a healthy environment a historic breakthrough that has the potential to improve the life of everyone on the planet.

The world’s future looks a little bit brighter today. The United Nations, in an historical development, has for the first time recognised that everyone, everywhere, has a human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Read full article →

Historic Resolution at UNGA

On 28 July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring that everyone on the planet has a right to a healthy environment. This landmark decision (A/RES/76/300), co-sponsored by 117 member States, is the result of decades of mobilization of various stakeholders. The resolution, based on a similar text adopted in October 2021 by the Human Rights Council, calls upon States, international organizations, and business enterprises to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all. → See countries’ positions

Today is a historic moment, but simply affirming our right to a healthy environment is not enough. The General Assembly resolution is very clear: States must implement their international commitments and scale up their efforts to realize it. We will all suffer much worse effects from environmental crises, if we do not work together to collectively avert them now.
Michelle Bachelet, 28 July 2022

Recognition in Other Bodies

In a Recommendation on human rights and the protection of the environment adopted on 27 September 2022, the Council of Europe calls on its 46 member states to actively consider recognising, at national level, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as a human right. → Read the resolution

Pollution and Hazardous Wastes

Though integral to almost all sectors of society, the lack of environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste can have long-lasting negative impacts on human health, society, and on the environment. Such negative impacts violate our human right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Stakeholders, particularly States and businesses, must ensure that this right is upheld when conducting activities and operations on the ground.

Right to a Non-Toxic Environment

At the 49th session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment and the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights presented a joint report on “The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment: non-toxic environment“.

The report describes the ongoing toxification of people and the planet, which is creating “sacrifice zones”: extremely contaminated areas where vulnerable and marginalized groups bear a disproportionate burden of the health, human rights and environmental consequences of exposure to pollution and hazardous substances. The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment presented these findings, highlighting State obligations, business responsibilities and good practices related to ensuring a non-toxic environment by preventing pollution, eliminating the use of toxic substances and rehabilitating contaminated sites. → Read the report.

Toxic Free Talks

The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights reports every Fall to the Council and to the UN General Assembly on issues related to his mandate. The Geneva Toxic Free Talks aim to harness the opportunity of this moment of the year to reflect on the challenges posed by the production, use and dissemination of toxics and on how Geneva contributes to bringing together the actors working in reversing the toxic tide.

Plastics and Human Rights

Plastic pollution is not only a threat to our environment, it is also a threat to people, as every stage of the plastic lifecycle impact human rights. These impacts include toxic pollution released in manufacturing, exposure to toxic additives in plastic consumer products, waste mismanagement, disinformation campaign about the risks of and solutions to plastic pollution, and more. Human rights principles are thus critical to support legitimate and effective responses. → Read more on plastics and human rights

Air Pollution and Human Rights

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide each year and that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. In addition, air pollution disproportionately affects women, children and older persons.

Poor air quality has implications for a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, water, food, housing and an adequate standard of living. Air pollution also clearly violates the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

Air pollution is a preventable problem. The solutions − laws, standards, policies, programmes, investments and technologies − are known. Implementing these solutions will of course entail large investments, but the benefits of fulfilling the right to breathe clean air for all of humanity are incalculable.  → Read more on air pollution and human rights

Climate Change

Climate change is an existential threat for people and the planet. Its harmful effects undermine the full enjoyment and realization of all human rights, disproportionately affecting those who are already in vulnerable situations. Over the past years, the Human Rights Council took on resolutions and discussions on specific aspects of climate change, while Special Rapporteurs contributed with reports on specific thematic angles within their mandates.

Climate Change at the Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council has contributed to raising awareness of the links between human rights and climate change by successive and targeted clarifications of the ways climate change affects human rights, including through the adoption of a series of resolutions related to climate change and human rights. The OHCHR also published a factsheet on the “Frequently asked questions on human rights and climate change

History of the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur

In 2010, an alliance of civil society organizations has called upon the HRC to establish a mandate for a new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change in order to better protect the rights of those on the frontlines of climate impacts. This call was reiterated by the Climate Vulnerable Forum – an alliance of States highly impacted by climate change – at the 2019 Conference of Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in many other contexts by various groups of States and civil society organizations.

In 2020, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Franciscans International (FI), in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Geneva Office, launched a series of activities to assess how a new UN Special Rapporteur mandated on climate change could effectively support the work of civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations already working on these issues. Based on regional consultations around the world, they published a report highlighting key recommendations for the institutions of the mandate.

The call for a mandate on human rights and climate change was reiterated at HRC46 by a coalition of 55 states in a joint statement. The Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment, and Human Rights – a group of faith-based organizations that gather to reaffirm the responsibility of each faith and spiritual tradition to care for the environment – also presented a statement in support of the mandate.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the core group behind resolution 47/24, the possibility of creating a new special procedure addressing the adverse impact of climate change was placed on the agenda of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, and was adopted with 42 votes in favor, 1 against and 4 abstentions. At the 49th session of the Council, the Council has appointed Ian Fry (Tuvalu) as the first mandate holder for this newly established procedure for a period of three years.

Biodiversity

The Human Rights Council’s recognition of the right to clean, healthy and sustainable environment is crucial to tackling the unprecedented biodiversity crisis that is threatening human well-being, human rights and the future of life on Earth, even three decades after the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It recognizes that the protection of the environment is equally important for the enjoyment of human rights, and that our action to protect biodiversity and ecosystems is critical. As biodiversity loss is caused by human activity, it has enormous implications for human rights and human well-being.

As preparations for the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 15) are underway, Parties are committed to negotiate a new global biodiversity framework that can become the blueprint for life on Earth. The draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework highlights the need for transformative change for people and nature supported by a rights-based approach to biodiversity action. To survive and thrive on our planet, commitments to protect human rights in light of biodiversity protection need to be meaningfully reflected throughout the framework.

The OHCHR and UNEP have published a joint Key Messages on human rights and biodiversity that provide an outline on how this is possible, where participation, non-discrimination, and equality are critical.

Moreover, in parallel to the 49th session of the Human Rights Council and the Geneva meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), various events have addressed biodiversity in human rights. Stakeholders are encouraging member stated to apply a human-rights based approach in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The key messages convened:

  1. A human rights-based approach means, in simple terms, that biodiversity policies, governance and management do not violate human rights.
  2. Indigenous peoples and local communities’ ways of life and territories are part of the solution.
  3. The rights of women and girls to participate are enshrined in the Convention.
  4. The rights of younger and future generations are intergenerational and sacred. Transformative education and full engagement of children and youth are essential.
  5. Review, reporting, and monitoring constitute critical elements of this framework.
  6. The need for an additional inter-sessional meeting dedicated to the monitoring framework should be called.

The third brief of the CBD Human Rights in Biodiversity Working Group – Implementing a human rights-based approach to biodiversity conservation: What is urgently needed to effectively adopt a human rights-based approach across the implementation, monitoring and reporting of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework – was launched mid-March and presented at the CBD Side Event | Applying a Human Rights-based Approach in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, 0n 19 March.

A second event, CBD Side Event | Integrating Human Rights in the Future of Biodiversity Action built upon the recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right by Human Rights Council resolution 48/13, shared ideas for a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that promotes rights-based action to protect biodiversity. The event took place on 22 March.

Environmental Human Rights Defenders

Environmental human rights defenders are those who strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment. However, evidence suggests that they remain highly vulnerable and under attack across the globe. As the field of human rights obligations related to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment expands, the need to protect those who protect our environmental rights also becomes more urgent.

Geneva Roadmap

In 2020, United Nations programmes, environmental defenders, NGOs and academic institutions discussed how to mobilize the international community towards supporting environmental defenders. Worldwide, they advocate for healthy environments – not just for their own local communities but for everyone. Despite, their efforts, environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) remain highly vulnerable and under increasing attack across the globe.

While there are various organizations that have implemented different projects to protect environmental defenders and strengthen the usage of environmental rights, some of these initiatives are fragmented. Hence, the UN programmes and partners came together to coordinate existing defender protection programmes and to develop a Geneva Roadmap.

The Geneva Roadmap seeks to ensure the effective implementation of the right to act for the protection of the environment. It aims to provide a collective platform in which initiatives and commitments of governments, civil society, research and academia and private actors can support one another.

With the support of Switzerland, Fiji, Norway, and in collaboration with NGOs and academic partners, the Geneva Environment Network organized side events to the HRC43 in February 2020 and the HRC46 in March 2021 aimed at strengthening the dialogue process of the Geneva Roadmap for the implementation of Resolution 40/11. The latest event identified milestones in 2021 as several events on the international scene offering critical opportunities for the realization of the Geneva Roadmap, both at the regional and global level.

Business and Human Rights

Human rights and the environment are intrinsically intertwined. If we are to tackle environmental challenges without leaving anyone behind, the private sector must respect both the environment and environmental rights, and ensure they are not violated in their conduct of business operations and beyond.

According to the OHCHR Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011, the set of rights businesses are supposed to respect are those contained in the International Bill on Human Rights and those set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.
Guiding Principles on Human Right and Businesses, 2012 UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

Human rights, businesses and environment are connected by the environmental nature of some human rights, which have been progressively more recognized and protected in the last years. Respecting environmental human rights is key to address environmental challenges in a just and equitable manner. These are also connected because businesses and transnational corporations often clash with local populations or environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) who oppose to the extraction of natural resources or construction activities.

Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Legislation

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, published a policy brief that contains a set of recommended elements for human rights and environmental due diligence laws.

The independent expert highlighted how activities such as rampant deforestation, chemical and plastic production, fossil fuel exploitation and other large-scale extractive activities by businesses routinely jeopardize the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and only propels the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity and pollution.

Overlapping human rights and environmental abuses by business actors are rampant, while effective remedies for rightsholders remain elusive.
— David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

Responding to the various legislative opportunities being developed — such as the European Commission’s Proposal for a Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence and the UN’s “Legally Binding Instrument to Regulate, in International Human Rights Law, the Activities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises” — the brief articulates a set of overarching goals and 10 essential legislative elements to advance and standardize corporate accountability. → Read the press release

Human Rights Day 2021

Every year on 10 December, the world celebrates Human Rights Day, the day when, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to ‘Equality’ and Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” With the principles of equality and non-discrimination at the heart of human rights, this year’s theme aims to address and find solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in our societies. This means reducing inequality by advancing all human rights for all. It means building better, fairer and greener societies that uplift and empower the most vulnerable.

In the face of environmental degradation, including the triple crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, equality for all also means advancing the right to a healthy environment and climate justice. These impacts disproportionately impacts persons, groups and peoples in vulnerable situations, and exacerbate existing inequalities that negatively affect the human rights of present and future generations. In follow-up to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, International Geneva is taking urgent action to respect, protect and fulfill this right. Such action should be the cornerstone of a new human rights-based economy that will produce a green recovery from COVID-19 and a just transition.

Various events took place in Geneva to celebrate Human Rights Day 2021 and deepen the links between the human rights and environmental agendas. Recording, summary and more resources are available.

United Nations Environment Programme and Human Rights

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) works to advance the inclusive and effective implementation of environmental rights law through, protecting environmental defenders, strengthening legal frameworks, building capacities of relevant stakeholders and advancing universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

As environmental issues have grown within the work of the Human Rights Council, there has been an agreement between the High Commissioner and the Executive Director of UNEP. One of the outcomes of this close collaboration is the publication on the response to Covid called: “Human Rights, the Environment and Covid-19”. It gives the keys elements on how the environment and human rights are interlinked in what happened with Covid and also with the development of the Covid response.

UNEP and OHCHR Agreement

In 2019, UNEP and the OHCHR have prioritized efforts to promote and protect environmental and human rights with the signing of a new cooperation agreement. The heads of the two UN bodies agreed that although more than 150 countries have recognized the human right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, national laws and jurisprudence, or through regional agreements, significantly more work is needed to inform policy-makers, justice institutions and the public on the various ways they can take action to uphold this right.

Strengthened cooperation will aim to drive better protection of environmental human rights defenders and their families, who frequently face violence – including killings and sexual violence, smear campaigns, and other forms of intimidation. The partnership will also encourage greater acceptance by leaders and governments of the human right to a healthy environment pursuing efforts toward its global recognition. It will seek to increase support to national governments to promote human rights-based policies, particularly in terms of sustainable management of natural resources, development planning, and action to combat climate change.

To support the growing community of practice between the two entities, UNEP and OHCHR are compiling updates in the Environment Rights Bulletin. It showcases best practices related to processes at the country, regional and global levels of relevance to the human rights-environment nexus. The latest edition published in October 2021 provides global updates and resources, as well as a focused section on biodiversity prepared on the occasion of the opening of CBD COP15.

Learning

Introduction to Human Rights and the Environment

UNITAR / UNEP / InforMEA

The Introduction to Human Rights and the Environment course covers the relationship between human rights and the environment; explains the bases for the application of human rights to environmental issues, and the procedural and substantive obligations relating to the environment; and gives examples of constitutions that have incorporated a right to a healthy environment, good practices in procedural and substantive environmental protection.

Environmental Human Rights Defenders

InforMEA

The course focuses on the crisis of the environmental defenders.

Our Rights, Our Planet Online Training

Articolo12 / Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI) / Terre des Hommes (TdH) / UNEP

The online resource is a free training tool for young people to learn about and stand up for their environmental rights.

Resources

General

Climate and Human Rights

Biodiversity and Human Rights

Toxics, Pollution and Human Rights

Right to a Healthy Environment

Human Rights Defenders

Business and Human Rights

GEN Resources

2022

2021

2020