Published: 17 Sep 2021

The 48th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC48) takes place from 13 September to 8 October 2021 in Geneva and online. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session and is regularly updated.

At this session, 14 thematic mandates will interact with the Council, namely: African Descent, Arbitrary Detention, democratic and equitable international order, Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, right to development, mercenaries, older persons, racism, slavery, hazardous wastes, truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, unilateral coercive measures, water and sanitation and indigenous peoples. In addition, four country mandates will engage with the Council: Cambodia, Central African Republic, Myanmar and Somalia.

The Council proceedings can be followed live on UN TV. The meeting summary will be available on the UN Geneva website. The live-updated programme of work on Sched.

Human Rights and Toxic Substances

Human Rights and Toxic Substances are discussed at the September session of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Marco Orellana, present his report on the right to science in the context of toxic substances (A/HRC/48/61) at this session. The discussion took take place on 21 September at 15:30 CEST.

Additional resources:

Side events convened by the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, within the framework of the Geneva Toxic Free Talks, include:

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. #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 in March 2021 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.

Workshops on the right to a healthy environment

Two workshops of interest took place during the summer 2021.

  • An online event on 7 July – co-organized by the Geneva Human Rights Platform with the Permanent Missions of Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland to the UN in Geneva and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Austria, Cabo Verde, Cyprus, Ecuador, Fiji, Germany, Mexico, Monaco, Panama, Portugal, Uruguay, Korea, OHCHR, UNEP, Center for International Environmental Law, Earthjustice, Franciscans International and Universal Rights Group – discussed the legal aspects of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the scope of the right, the legal aspects of a potential resolution, as well as how it would contribute to address the global environmental crisis.
  • On 31 August 2021 the core-group – Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – hosted an hybrid workshop consulting with experts, governments and civil society, to help inform their decision to put forth the resolution for the right to a healthy environment during HRC48.

At HRC48

The core group on Human Rights and the Environment – Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – is expected to put forth the resolution for the right to a healthy environment during HRC48.

On the opening day of HRC48, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for Member States’ leadership to address the environmental crises which threaten the very foundation of human life. Her statement emphasized that addressing the world’s triple environmental crisis is a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative, to which solutions exist.

A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is the foundation of human life. But today, because of human action – and inhuman inaction – the triple planetary crises of climate change, pollution, and nature loss is directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself. Read full statement →

Civil society organizations are amplifying this message and calling on the HRC to recognize a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a universal human right. Find their statements below:

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.

Ahead of HRC48

Over the past years, various governments, civil society organizations and other institutions have expressed their support for establishing 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. Statements on the matter, as well as further information on the initiatives aimed at facilitating these discussions in Geneva and beyond can be found below.

A new resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change (A/HRC/47/L.19) was adopted at HRC47 by a vote of 46 in favour, none against and 1 abstention. The Council emphasized the urgent importance of continuing to address, as they relate to States’ human rights obligations, the adverse consequences of climate change for all, particularly in developing countries and for the people whose situation is most vulnerable to climate change.

The Council also decided to incorporate into its annual programme of work, beginning in 2023, sufficient time, at a minimum a panel discussion, to discuss different specific themes on the adverse impacts of climate change on human rights.  The Council encouraged the continued discussions among States and relevant stakeholders on the possible creation of a new special procedure addressing the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.

At HRC48

Discussions on a possible mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the issue of climate change continue at this session.

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 is now on the agenda of the Council. OP 15 of that resolution gives the impetus needed at the Council to discuss the establishment of the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights, and the leadership it needs responding to the threat climate change represents to Human Rights.

On 15 September, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Marshall Islands hosted a side-event on “Addressing the adverse impact of Climate Change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights”, co-sponsored by the Bahamas, Barbados, Fiji, Guyana, Haiti, Maldives, Nauru, Singapore, and Vanuatu. This event presented the findings of the latest IPCC report (AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis Report) to the members of the Council in the context of existing and potential future work of the HRC, including the creation of a SR on Climate Change and Human Rights as a response to this crisis.

With the momentum around climate action growing and resolution 47/24 on climate change adopted earlier this year, a core group composed of Bahamas, the European Union, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay, Sudan, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands will be tabling a resolution focused on the technical delivery of the establishment of a mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

H.E. Amb. Doreen De Brum, Premanent Representative of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the UN

The draft resolution was shared on Thursday 16 September, with the view to hold the informal starting on Friday 17 September from 3 p.m to 4.30 p.m, and the second one on the Wednesday 22 September from 4.30 to 6 p.m, and the third one on the Friday 24 September from 9.00 am to 10.30 am.

Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 45/8 and 16/2, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo Agudo, is encouraged to work on identifying challenges and obstacles to the full realization of those rights, as well as protection gaps thereto, and to continue to identify good practices and enabling factors in that regard.

In his new report, the Special Rapporteur presents his plan and vision for the first three years of his time as Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, from 2020 to 2023: a socio-environmental approach to the human rights to waterand sanitation.

Read press release →  Special Rapporteur on Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation to the Human Rights Council: 2.2 Billion People Are Without Guaranteed Access to Safe Drinking Water and 4.2 Billion Are Without Basic Sanitation

Human Rights and Food Systems

Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit, to be held in New York on 23 September 2021, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food presented an interim report (A/76/237) to the General Assembly on 14 September 2021. The report stresses that although the summit has elevated public discussion concerning food systems reform, sufficient attention has not been paid to structural challenges facing the world’s food systems. It also points out the importance of transforming food systems if we are to solve the climate and biodiversity crises, and how a human rights-based approach can support this endeavor.

Approximately 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. Food systems also emit approximately one third of the world’s greenhouse gases. What has driven much of this damage has been intensive industrial agriculture (and export-oriented food policies).

Climate Change and the Right to Development

The Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Saad Alfarargi, presented his report on the intersection of climate change and the right to development on 17 September, saying that the global climate crisis, the increasing number of natural disasters and new global pandemics all had the potential to undo decades of development.  The Special Rapporteur warned that climate change was a global human rights threat multiplier.

Climate change has already impacted and would increasingly impact a wide range of internationally guaranteed human rights, including the right to development.  Among the groups disproportionately affected by climate change are indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities and women in vulnerable situations.  The communities and populations most affected by climate change were oftentimes the ones that did not participate in decision-making processes on actions that addressed the consequences of climate change. 

In the discussion with the Special Rapporteur, some speakers expressed their strong commitment to international agreements on climate change, adding that their States had been implementing climate change adaptation and mitigation measures for sustainable development.  The realisation of the right to development  as an inalienable human right was essential at this historic time, taking into account the growing gap between developing and developed countries, the effects of climate change, the imposition of unilateral coercive measures, the failure to comply with official development aid, as well as the heavy burden of foreign debt. 

Protection of Environmental Human Rights Defenders

In her update to the Council, on 13 September 2021, the High Commissioner announced the launch a joint Environmental Rights Programme in the coming months to enhance protection of environmental human rights defenders and civic space; integrate human rights, including the right to a healthy environment, into all relevant negotiations and UN processes. and help build national capacity to promote and protect human rights.

That same day, Global Witness sadly announced that in 2020, it recorded 227 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate.

Reports

Thematic Resolutions

  • The recognition of the right to a safe, clean, and healthy environment | Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia
  • The technical delivery of the establishment of a mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change | Bahamas, the European Union, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay, Sudan, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands

Events

Links

Past HRC Sessions

Who to Follow on Twitter

#HRC48

@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
@SRtoxics | Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
@SREnvironment | Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
@RMIgeneva | Marshland Islands Permanent Mission in Geneva
@ISHRglobal | The International Service for Human Rights
@FranciscansIntl | Franciscans International
@Geneva_Academy | Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
@hrw | Human Rights Watch
@URGthinktank | Universal Rights Group (URG)
@YvesLador | Special Representative of Earthjustice in Geneva
@duycks | Senior Attorney – Climate and Energy Programme at the Center for International Environmental Law
@katha_nina | Katharina Rall, Senior environment researcher at HumanRights Watch
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition |
Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network