September 30, 2023

The United Nations declares access to a clean environment a human right

The United Nations declares access to a clean environment a human right

Villagers walk in a street as fog covers the village of Pulau Mintaro in Mwaru Jambi on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, September 15, 2015… REUTERS/Bioyarta

  • A decision known as a “historic breakthrough”
  • Britain votes for this sudden move
  • Council appoints a special rapporteur on climate change

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday recognized a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right, officially adding its weight to the global fight against climate change and its devastating consequences.

The vote passed with overwhelming support, although some countries, particularly the United States and Great Britain, faced criticism in the run-up to the vote. Continue reading

The decision, first discussed in the 1990s, is not legally binding, but it has the potential to shape global standards. Climate lawyers say this can help them build arguments about issues related to the environment and human rights.

David Boyd, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, called the resolution a “historic achievement” and said, “This resolution has the potential to change lives in a world where the global environmental crisis kills more than nine million people every year.”

The text proposed by Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland was adopted by 43 votes in favour, with 4 abstentions from Russia, India, China and Japan, and drew rare applause at the Geneva Forum.

Great Britain, which had been a critic of the proposal in the last intense negotiations, voted for a surprise move at the last minute. The UK’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Rita French, said the UK voted “yes” because it shared the ambitions of its supporters to fight climate change, but added that countries not adhering to the terms of the resolution would stand.

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The United States did not vote because it is not currently a member of the 47-member council.

Costa Rica’s ambassador, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, said the decision “will send a strong message to communities around the world facing the climate emergency that they are not alone.”

Critics have raised various objections, saying the council is not the appropriate forum and raising legal concerns.

Environmentalists say the UK’s previous critical stance has undermined its pledges ahead of the global climate conference in Glasgow next month. Continue reading

John Knox, a former UN special rapporteur, said before the vote that those who criticized the resolution were “on the wrong side of history”.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 13.7 million deaths each year, or about 24.3% of the global total, are due to environmental risks such as air pollution and exposure to chemicals.

On Friday, the council also approved another proposal from the Marshall Islands to appoint a new special rapporteur on climate change.

(Reporting by Emma Farge) Editing by Stephanie Nebehay, John Stonestreet and Dan Grebler

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