Environment @ 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Last updated: 26 Mar 2021
The 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC46) took place from 22 February to 24 March 2021 in Geneva. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, there was no access to the Public Gallery during HRC46. The Council proceedings could be followed live on UN TV. The meeting summary is available on the UN Geneva webpage.
The Right to a Healthy Environment
The Time is Now
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 now 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.
The global solidarity movement calling on governments at the Human Rights Council to recognize the human right to a healthy environment organized campaign on twitter to increase the visibility of their message. #TheTimeIsNow
The planetary crises of climate, biodiversity loss and the COVID-19 pandemic show us the devastating costs of the way we have treated our common home, our planet. As claimed around the world, the post-COVID recovery must be a green recovery, with the human right to a healthy natural environment, already widely acknowledged at the national and regional levels (in 156 out of 193 of the UN Member States), at its core. By filling this gap in international human rights law, this recognition will highlight that human rights have to be guaranteed and effective in the face of environmental challenges.
More than 100 constitutions across the world have adopted a human right to a healthy environment, which is proving to be a powerful way to protect the natural world. Read more.
Over 60 nations urged the Human Rights Council last week 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. Read more.
Statements in support of the right to environment
HRC core group on human rights and the environment and co-sponsors
The HRC core group on human rights and the environment – Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – issued a statement on 9 March calling for States to engage in the process of the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the HRC, supported by more than 60 countries.
Joint statement from UN entities
On 9 March 2021, the UN Environment Programme delivered a joint statement on behalf of 15 UN entities on the right to healthy environment to the Human Rights Council. Coming together under the UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, and in response to the urgent call for action from all corners of the world, these 15 UN entities have stated that the time for global recognition, implementation, and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is now.
SR Environment | A Rights-based Approach to the Global Climate and Biodiversity Crises
The year 2021 will be critical in the fight against both climate change and biodiversity loss. Decades after the establishment of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), objectives have not been met. In all regions of the world, climate change and biodiversity loss are causing devastating human rights impacts.
On 21 January 2021, the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (SR Environment) sent a letter to all Member States urging them to recognize the profound importance of implementing a rights-based approach to both the climate and biodiversity crises.
Taking a rights-based approach to climate change and biodiversity conservation will produce effective and equitable outcomes that prioritize vulnerable and marginalized populations and increase the likelihood of achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
– David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
In his statement, SR Environment urges Member States to take the following actions: (1) incorporate human rights in their updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, (2) support the integration of human rights at the center of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and (3) adopt the UN resolution on the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Report | The Case for Universal Recognition of the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment
A side event presenting the report ‘The case for universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment’, by David Boyd, John Knox and Marc Limon (URG Policy Brief) took place on 23 February 2021. This event highlighted that an important window of opportunity now exists to make a final push to secure universal recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in 2021, via a Human Rights Council resolution followed by a General Assembly resolution.
Human Rights and the Global Water Crisis
The report “Human rights and the global water crisis: water pollution, water scarcity and water-related disasters”, of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, will be considered at the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. A side-event “The Global Water Crisis: Identifying and Implementing Rights-based Solutions” presented the report on 2 March. The interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur took place on 3 and 4 March. The Special Rapporteur warned that the water crisis is worsening, and that urgent response is needed.
- The water crisis has a “major impact on human rights” expert says | OHCHR News | 15 March 2021
- Summary of the interactive dialogue | Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue | 4 March 2021
- UN expert: Water crisis is worsening, urgent response needed | Press release by the SR Environment | 3 March 2021
- Human rights and the global water crisis: water pollution, water scarcity and water-related disasters | Report by the SR Environment | 19 January 2021
Human Rights Depend on a Healthy Biosphere
There is now global agreement that human rights norms apply to a broad spectrum of environmental issues, including biological diversity (the full range of life on Earth) and healthy ecosystems (the foundation upon which all life depends). Healthy ecosystems are essential to the enjoyment of various human rights, as they provide no clean air to breathe, safe water to drink or nutritious food to eat, and many other services from climate regulation to the mitigation of the impact of natural disasters.
In October 2020, the SR Environment presented to the UN General Assembly his report (A/75/161) discussing the need for urgent action to conserve, protect and restore ecosystems and the biosphere, as the fundamental basis to life on earth and by extent human rights. The report makes a strong case about why all human rights depend on a healthy environment and the importance for States to adopt a rights-based approach.
HRC46 will have the opportunity to consider the report and its recommendations as it will prepare the adoption of the Resolution on human rights and the environment. A side event discussing the elements of the report, the obligations it clarifies and the recommendations it formulates, took place on 5 March 2021.
Resolution on Human Rights and the Environment
The resolution on Human rights and the environment (A/HRC/46/L.6/Rev.1), on the mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur was presented and adopted at this session. (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland)
The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue has compiled a summary table of the resolutions adopted at HRC46 – including an overview and action taken on each draft resolution and written amendment, the list of co-sponsors, periodicity of the initiative and the expected follow-up, accessible here.
Protection of Environmental Human Rights Defenders
On 3 and 4 March 2021, the Council held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on her annual report “Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders”, referring also to environmental human rights defenders.
Key findings from the report, with a focus on issues faced by environmental and land rights defenders, was discussed at the side-event “Hostility and Threats in Global Supply Chains: Risks for human rights defenders & their communities protecting their lands and forests” on 18 March at 15.00 CET.
Human Right Council Resolution 40/11 – Recognizing the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development – was adopted by the Human Rights Council by consensus on 21 March 2019. Following the adoption of the resolution, platforms, coalitions and networks of defenders met in February 2020 to launch the Geneva Roadmap 40/11 for the implementation of this Human Rights Council Resolution 40/11.
An event co-organized by the University of Geneva and Earthjustice, within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network, took place on 9 March , in parallel to the Council to draw what this Roadmap for the protection of environmental defenders should be in 2021, the context of the important negotiations taking place this year and at the same time to prepare taking stock in 2022 of their realization, their impact and of the so urgently needed reversal of the current worrying trend.
Rights of the Child and the SDGs
The annual full-day meeting of the Human Rights Council on children’s rights was held during HRC46 on 1 March 2021 and focused on the rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The discussions emphasized that the rights of the child are at the heart of the SDGs, that children need global solutions on environment and education, and that they should have the opportunity to participate in decision-making to develop these solutions.
Human Rights and 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 Rapporteur contributed with reports on specific thematic angles within their mandates. However, there is currently no mechanisms to holistically address the interface of climate change and human rights.
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.
In March 2020, the OHCHR published a factsheet on the “Frequently asked questions on human rights and climate change”. This comprehensive guide reviews the impacts of climate change on human rights, the obligations of States on the matter, the role of UN human rights mechanisms, the relevance of the recognition of a right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment, and more key aspects on the connections between human rights and climate change.
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.
Although a potential mandate for a SR on climate change is not on the agenda of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, many actors are actively engaged to build momentum for this discussion at a later session.
Joint States Statement on Climate Change and Human Rights
The Permanent Mission of Bangladesh delivered a statement at HRC46, on behalf of 55 states, calling for effective global climate actions in order to promote and protect the human rights of all and calling upon the Council to consider creating a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change.
Human Rights and Climate Change Geneva Dialogues
The Geneva Dialogues consist of a series of events to discuss how human rights institutions can better support and enhance climate ambition and human rights-based climate action. The high-level session of the Dialogues took place on 24 March 2021. This session built upon the outcomes of expert workshops on environmental justice, land and indigenous peoples, and climate and opportunities for redress. It provided the opportunity to discuss how specific human rights institutions and processes can effectively contribute to addressing those issues and how to foster synergies between the implementation processes for the Paris Agreement and the mandates of human rights bodies.
At this session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, delivered a message emphasizing that “human rights are the key to devising climate policies that are equitable, inclusive and effective”. Read the statement.
Small Island States, Indigenous Peoples, Youth, and Faith Communities Perspectives
On 11 March 2021, 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 – presented a statement to the HRC46 calling for the establishment a new Special Procedures mandate on Human Rights and Climate Change. The Lutheran World Federation also took position, reaffirming its long-standing commitment to climate justice, support for people and communities affected by climate disasters, and theological work towards eco-theology and care for creation.
An event organized in conjunction with HRC46 on 26 March, brought together voices and visions from small island states, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and faith communities with a view to establishing the connections between climate change and human rights as well as sharing information about concrete proposals and initiatives for addressing the human rights impacts of climate change in this context.
Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and People of African Descent
The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent public virtual 28th session on Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and People of African Descent took place from 24 to 26 March 2021. This thematic session discussed human rights solutions to address environmental injustice, racial disparities, unequal protection and the unique impact of the climate crisis and environmental racism on people of African descent. It involved a comprehensive look at various aspects of environmental racism and the climate crisis locally and globally. Speakers explored human rights solutions to address environmental injustice, racial disparities, unequal protection and the unique impact of the climate crisis and environmental racism on people of African descent. Read more.
#TheTimeIsNow – The case for universal recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
23 February 2021 | 16:00 – 17:30 | Universal Rights Group
Environmental and human rights impacts of natural rubber processing
24 February 2021 | 16.00 – 17.30 | Swedwatch, Source International and Mighty Earth
Human Rights of the Child and Sustainable Development Goals
1 March 2021 | 16.00 – 18.00 | Human Rights Council
The Global Water Crisis: Identifying and Implementing Rights-based Solutions
2 March 2021 | 16.30 CET
Interactive Dialogue SR Environment Report on Human Rights and the Global Water Crisis
3 March 2021 | 17.00 CET
4 March 2021 | 15.00 CET
Human Rights Depend on a Healthy Biosphere
5 March 2021 | 15:30 – 17:00 | Geneva Environment Network
Geneva Roadmap 40/11 | Milestones and Opportunities in 2021
9 March 2021 | 14:00 – 15:30 | Geneva Environment Network
Mossville: when great trees falls | Film Screening
23 March | 16.00 – 18.00 CET | UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
28th session of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent | Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis
24 to 26 March 2021 | 14.00-16.00 CET | UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent | UNTV
High-level Session: Human Rights Institutions and the Implementation of the Paris Agreement | 2021 Human Rights & Climate Change Geneva Dialogues
24 March 2021 | 14.00 – 16.00 CET | CIEL, OHCHR, Earthjustice, Natural Justice, Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
Urgently Addressing Climate Change as a Human Rights Issue – Small Island States, Indigenous Peoples, Youth and Faith Perspectives
26 March 2021 | 10.00-11.30 CET | Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights
- A/HRC/46/28 | Human rights and associated obligations related to water pollution, water scarcity and floods – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
- A/HRC/46/46 | Panel discussion on promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change – Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- A/HRC/46/48 | Summary of the third intersessional meeting for dialogue and cooperation on human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council
- URG | Inside Track: HRC46
- ISHR | HRC46 | Civil society presents key takeaways from Human Rights Council
- ISHR | HRC46 | Key issues on agenda of March 2021 session
- Update on HRC-46 by the Geneva Centre For Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue
Past HRC Sessions
Who to Follow on Twitter
@UN_HRC | UN Human Rights Council
@nazhatskhan | H.E. Amb. Nazhat Shameem Khan,Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office at Geneva, President of the Human Rights Council in 2021
@UNHumanRights | The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)
@mbachelet | United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
@SREnvironment | Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
@obioraokaforc | UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network
@ISHRglobal | The International Service for Human Rights
@URGthinktank | Universal Rights Group (URG)
@Geneva_Academy | Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
@YvesLador | Special Representative of Earthjustice in Geneva
@duycks | Senior Attorney – Climate and Energy Programme at the Center for International Environmental Law
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition | Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)
19th International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights
The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), the leading international event dedicated to film and human rights, will take place in Geneva from 5-14 March 2021, in parallel to the annual main session of the UN Human Rights Council in March. This edition of FIFDH intends to question and highlight the many new forms of collective commitment and creation that are emerging everywhere.
The festival will adapt to the constraints of the health context. If circumstances do not allow in-person meetings, other ways of being together and engaging with one other will be set up through digital, sound or written channels to make the activists’ voices resonate and carry high the colors of politically engaged cinema.
The first guests of this edition have already been announced: Swiss Federal Councillor Alain Berset will discuss the measures taken to contain the pandemic in the light of fundamental freedoms. Angela Davis, icon of the civil rights movement, and Barbara Hendricks, singer and FIFDH patron, will return to the subject of racism in the United States. Filmmaker and activist Ai Weiwei will present Coronation, a stunning documentary film shot clandestinely in Wuhan, China, in the midst of the first months of the pandemic.
The Festival will also schowcase a selection of films and discussions on environmental issues.
We Are Watching: The Eyes of the world on climate action
6 March 2021 | 9.00 CET | Plaine de Plainpalais
“Common goods for a new era”: interview with Dominique Bourg and Sophie Swaton
7 March 2021 | 14.00 CET | Online
Once Upon A Time In Venezuela
By Anabel Rodríguez Ríos | Accessible on demand from 5 to 14 March 2021 | Online
FIFDH Impact Day
Films can be effective tools to strengthen human rights movements and create social and environmental change. The FIFDH Impact Day aims to find potential alliances and strategies that will increase the quality and results of their joint actions to have a positive impact on the world we live in. Sixteen projects have been selected to participate at the Impact Day this year, some of which address environmental issues including plastic pollution. An informative session for NGOs and Organizations wanting to engage with films will take place on 9 March, at 12.30 CET.
Several projects for the Impact Day 2021 deal with environmental issues, including:
- Holding the Sky | The adventure of a Yanomami spokesman who travels around the world with his son to raise awareness about the endangered Amazon forest
- Paradise | The crusade of three environmental activists to protect the Philippines’ last ecological frontier
- The Last Nomads | The struggles of a family living in a threatened reserve in Montenegro
- The Mine | The battle of a group of Maya Qu’qchi women in Guatemala to hold multinational corporations accountable for their acts in the work of a mine
Urban Genesis | An investigation of how to solve issues caused by rapid urbanisation in Ethiopia
Why Plastic? | A three-part investigative series busting the myths and uncovering the facts behind the global plastic crisis