The UN general assembly on Friday declared access to a clean and healthy environment a fundamental right, calling up upon nations to initiate measures to ensure a healthy environment for all. UN notes that the decision will help in accelerating the implementation of environment and human rights obligations and commitments of nations.
“The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women, and indigenous peoples”, The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres said.
Access to a clean and healthy environment will play a crucial role in mitigating life-endangering environmental threats including climate change, pollution, and biodiversity. According to World Health Organization (WHO), more than seven million deaths recorded every year are as a result of environmental risks such as pollution.
In her remarks, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet emphasized the need for urgent action while calling upon nations across the globe to collaborate in implementing the newly recognized right, a move that will help in safeguarding the economic policies and business models.
“Today is a historic moment, but simply affirming our right to a healthy environment is not enough. The General Assembly resolution is very clear: States must implement their international commitments and scale up their efforts to realize them. We will all suffer much worse effects from environmental crises if we do not work together to collectively avert them now,” she said.
The text proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland was passed with massive support despite a few criticisms from some countries. Russia, India, China, and Japan recorded abstention in the vote. It affirms that the impact of climate change, pollution, and poor management of waste and chemicals interferes with the enjoyment of this right.
“Governments have made promises to clean up the environment and address the climate emergency for decades but having a right to a healthy environment changes people’s perspective from ‘begging’ to demanding governments to act”, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Mr. David Boyd said.
However, the newly recognized right is not legally binding and is looking to accelerate action and empower ordinary people to hold their governments accountable.