Access to a healthy environment - a human right

New resolution by UN rights council

Spring daisies
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Margaryan
15 October 2021

On 8 October, the U.N. Human Rights Council recognised access to a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right, formally adding its weight to the global fight against climate change and its devastating consequences.

The text, proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland, was passed with 43 votes in favour and 4 abstentions from Russia, India, China and Japan, prompting a rare burst of applause in the Geneva forum.

Adolescent speaking during Earth Day event
UNICEF Armenia/2021/Margaryan

Access to a healthy environment - a human right!

The resolution on a healthy environment acknowledges the damage inflicted by climate change and environmental destruction on millions of people across the world. It also underlines that the most vulnerable segments of the population are more acutely impacted. First discussed in the 1990s, the resolution is not legally binding but has the potential to shape global standards. Lawyers involved in climate litigation say it could help them build arguments in cases involving the environment and human rights.

The decision comes weeks before the crucial UN climate change summit, COP26, happening in early November in Glasgow.

According to World Health Organization, 24% of all global deaths, roughly 13.7 million deaths a year, are linked to the environment, due to risks such as air pollution and chemical exposure.