A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights

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Human rights and environmental protection are interdependent.

As affirmed by the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, professor John Knox, "while a safe, clean and healthy environment is essential for the enjoyment of human rights, the exercise of human rights including the right to freedom of expression, education, participation and remedy is vital to the protection of the environment." The report presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2018 requested the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution formally recognizing the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as part of international human rights law. As the current UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. David R. Boyd recalls, while the right to a healthy environment has been recognized by a majority of States in their constitutions, legislation, and various regional treaties to which they are parties, this right has not yet been recognized as such by the UN. FIDH believes that the time has come for the UN to formally recognize the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Over the past 10 years, FIDH has been working to reaffirm the relevance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the current debate about climate change. Environmental damages directly threaten, among others, the right to life, health, water, development, housing, work, culture and the rights of Indigenous peoples (see for example FIDH’s position on the COP 21 negotiations). Affected populations have the right to be protected from environmental degradation resulting from pollution, deforestation, desertification, fires and floods caused by climate change.

In Honduras, the acceleration of energy supply transformation which is carried out in an erratic and irresponsible manner risks causing irreversible harm to protected areas in the Pico Bonito National Park and to the Cuyamel River micro-basin, the main source of water for nearly 7,000 people in the San Francisco municipality in Atlántida (see our report here).

In South Africa, the decline of the mining industry entails huge environmental and human rights impacts due to the lack of appropriate accountability of both companies and public institutions. The sudden closure of the Blyvoorzicht mine has left a community of 6,000 people to fend for themselves.

Despite the climate crisis, oil projects are still moving forward around the world. Among the most ambitious is a proposal led by Total to extract some of Africa’s biggest reserves under Lake Albert and within the Murchison Falls National Park and ship it to international markets through the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). As FIDH and FHRI documented, in addition to loss of land and livelihoods, communities are concerned that oil developments will further contaminate their water, contribute to noise and air pollution, negatively impact their health, and degrade ecosystems in protected areas.

Europe itself is not immune from negative impacts on human health and the environment generated by economic activities, as demonstrated by the report on the human rights violations caused by the environmental disaster of the ILVA steel plant in Italy.

In all these cases, local communities are on the frontline, fighting for the defense of their right and the rights of nature to exist, thrive and evolve as opposed to merely being property for humans to exploit. Their struggles affect everyone as a safe, clean, and healthy environment is of the utmost importance for the respect and exercise of human rights for all.

However, State and corporate actors that contribute to climate change, environmental degradation and human rights abuses continue to benefit from impunity. FIDH is mobilized to fight impunity to hold States and business accountable for environmental degradation. To hold corporate actors to account for their contribution to the climate crisis FIDH and its member organisations have developped a coordinated cross-regional strategic line of action.

Following the adoption of a resolution in 2019 recognizing the interdependence between human rights and the protection of the environment, initiated by 8 organizations from 3 continents, FIDH committed to work with key stakeholders on a range of actions to defend the rights of affected communities and empower its members engaged on this issue, with the aim of strengthening the legal framework and ensuring accountability and redress.

In September 2020, FIDH joined forces with over 1,100 civil society and indigenous peoples organisations to endorse a Joint Civil Society Statement calling on States for the immediate recognition of the right to a healthy environment. The Statement was delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council during its 45th session and encouraged the Core Group on Human Rights and the Environment (including Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland) to deliver a joint statement committing to paving the way for recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

In August 2021, the Core Group announced it would bring forward a resolution to universally recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment during the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council. In September 2021, FIDH called with other 15 organizations upon all Members of the Council to proactively support this initiative. A resolution to universally recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment was proposed during the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council (13 September - 8 October). Governments have the historical opportunity to recognize this right, and they should not miss it.

Another core group of states, composed of Bahamas, the European Union, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay, Sudan and the Republic of the Marshall Islands also announced that they will be proposing a resolution to create a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of Human Rights in the context of Climate Change during the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council.

FIDH believes that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential to the fulfilment of the right to life, food, health, water, housing. Similarly, the introduction of human rights considerations into environmental policies is essential to the protection of the populations affected by global warming and to the well-being of future generations

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