Published: 26 Feb 2021

The 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC46) will take place from 22 February to 23 March 2021 in Geneva. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session, and is regularly updated.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, there will be no access to the Public Gallery during HRC46. The Council proceedings can be followed live on UN TV.

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 1,000 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 global solidarity movement calling on governments at the Human Rights Council to recognize the human right to a healthy environment is organizing a 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.

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.

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. The interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur will take place on 3 and 4 March 2021 (A/HRC/46/28).

The side-event “The Global Water Crisis: Identifying and Implementing Rights-based Solutions”, presenting the report will take place on 2 March 2021 at 16:30 CET.

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. 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  disscussing the elements of the report, the obligations it clarifies and the recommendations it formulates, will be held on 5 March 2021. The event will highlight the contribution of the report to the coming 2021 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille and CBD COP15 in Kumming, as well as to the urgent green recovery from the current pandemic.

Protection of Environmental Human Rights Defenders

On 3 and 4 March 2021, the Council will 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.

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, will take place on 9 March 2021, in parallel to the Council to draw what this Roadmap for the protection of environmental defenders should be in 2021 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 to held during HRC-46 on 1 March 2021, from 16:00 to 18:00 CET, will focus on the theme of the rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals.

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 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. Tthis 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.

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.

Resolution on Human Rights and the Environment

The resolution on Human rights and the environment, on the mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur is being presented at this session.  (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland)

Events

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

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

Reports

  • 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

Links

Who to follow on Twitter

#HRC46

@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)

Past HRC Sessions

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

Once Upon A Time In Venezuela

By Anabel Rodríguez Ríos | Accessible on demand from 5 to 14 March 2021 | Online

Red Soil

By Farid Bentoumi | Availability to be announced

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.