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U.N. Officially Recognizes A Safe, Sustainable Environment As A Human Right

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 8, 2021


The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Friday recognizing access to a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment” as a fundamental human right despite earlier pushback from the United States and United Kingdom.

Key Facts

The measure passed with 43 votes in favor and none against, but with abstentions from China, India, Japan and Russia.

It was initially proposed by 22 countries including Finland, Germany, and North Macedonia, as well as Fiji and the Maldives — island nations that are especially vulnerable because of the climate emergency.

While the resolution isn’t binding, it does encourage states to adopt environmental protections, and puts pressure on them to join the 100-plus nations that have some constitutional measures in place regarding healthy environments, advocates say.

Big Number

13.7 million. That’s the number of deaths a year linked to the environment according to the World Health Organization, equal to roughly 24% of all global deaths.

Key Background

Reuters reported that the United States and United Kingdom had cited legal concerns in the run-up to the vote, but the UK ultimately voted for the resolution, while the US could not vote as it is not one of the Council’s 47 members. Neither country has constitutional protections in place ensuring the right to a healthy environment, according to the U.N. Environment Programme.

What To Watch For

The U.N.’s 26th Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, will be held in Glasgow, Scotland at the end of the month and is expected to draw big names including Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II, as well as international heads of state. Extreme weather events are becoming much more common across the globe, including catastrophic flooding, wildfires and droughts. Earlier this year the U.N.’s own secretary general declared a “code red for humanity” after an intergovernmental report was released detailing the devastating effects of man-made climate change.

Further Reading

UN passes resolution making clean environment access a human right” (Reuters)

Clean environment could become U.N. human right. Not so fast, say U.S., Britain” (Reuters)

‘Code Red For Humanity’: Humans Driving ‘Unprecedented’ Climate Change, UN Report Finds” (Forbes)


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