The Right to a Healthy Environment Makes Great Strides ForwardReading time : 2 minutes
For years, civil society has been calling for universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment. The intersections between environmental damages and human rights violations are no longer in doubt, including among decision-makers.
Confronted by the urgency of environmental crises, States are increasingly recognizing the right to a healthy environment at the national level. All eyes are now on international and regional governance fora.
In 2020, more than a thousand NGOs signed a call for the United Nations Human Rights Council to recognize the right to a healthy environment. The mobilization continues with a clear objective: making 2021 the year when the UN recognizes the right to a healthy environment. The movement is supported by David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. In February 2021, his report highlighted an important window of opportunity for a final push to secure universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment. This could be done via a resolution of the Human Rights Council, potentially followed by a General Assembly (UNGA) resolution.
Alongside this initiative to the Council, the UN consultations taking place under the resolution 73/333 aim at discussing a potential Global Pact for the Environment. This Pact would entitle every citizen with the right to a healthy environment.
At the regional scale, judicial and political bodies have made leaps towards a recognition of this right. In a 2020 resolution, the European Parliament called “the European Union and its Member States to support, at the next UNGA, the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment”. As a follow-up, 70 MEPs from diverse political groups have signed, in March 2021, a letter calling for the European Commission and Council to advocate for this right. One practicable option would be to work on an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights is the only regional human rights instrument that does not recognize this right among fundamental rights. Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights was interpreted to enshrine a justiciable independent right to a healthy environment. Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights recognizes the right to a general satisfactory environment.