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UN declares access to a clean environment as a fundamental human right

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted four resolutions yesterday, including one that defines a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a fundamental human right.

The resolution was adopted by 43 votes in favour, none against and 4 abstentions (which include China and Russia).

It is a historic breakthrough, that has the potential to improve the life of everyone on the planet, as stated by David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

“The world’s future looks a little bit brighter today,” Mr Boyd said. “The United Nations, in a historical development, has for the first time recognised that everyone, everywhere, has a human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”

The Council is therefore encouraging States to adopt policies in this regard, including with respect to biodiversity and ecosystems.

“This has life-changing potential in a world where the global environmental crisis causes more than nine million premature deaths every year,” Mr Boyd continued. “It will spark constitutional changes and stronger environmental laws, with positive implications for air quality, clean water, healthy soil, sustainably produced food, green energy, climate change, biodiversity and the use of toxic substances.”

Among the countries that were particularly thanked by the UN rapporteur, there is also Slovenia, currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU and which helped to bring the resolution to adoption after civil society and communities had fought for it for 30 years.

And the announcement comes right on the day of the Budapest Climate Summit, which took place on 7-8 October. Members of various governments, international companies, representatives of the EU, experts on sustainable financing and biodiversity had convened in Budapest for a 2-day event to discuss the main challenges and solutions, in the fight against climate change.

Eran Raizman, Senior Animal Health and Production Officer, at the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, quoted several countries in which nature is protected and included as a right in their national constitutions.

The UN Council’s resolution reminds us that the importance of sustainability and access to a safe environment should not be just a privilege for some countries but a universal right which had also been endorsed by UN Secretary General António Guterres, young activists, business groups and more than 1,300 civil society organisations from around the world.

“This resolution is especially important for all of the environmental human rights defenders working, often at great personal risk, to safeguard the land, air, water and ecosystems that we all depend on,” Mr Boyd said. “It is also vital for the people and communities who suffer disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation, including women, children, indigenous and other potentially vulnerable and marginalised populations.”

“In a world that too often emphasises the differences between people, the right to a healthy environment reflects a fundamental truth that should unite us all,” David Boyd concluded.

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