FIVE DECADES after the world’s first conference to make the environment a major issue, UN human rights experts call on States to redouble efforts to protect the imperilled planet for current and future generations amid unprecedented challenges.

“Some communities suffer from environmental injustices where the exposure to pollution and toxic substances is so extreme that they are described as ‘sacrifice zones’”, they said. “Given humanity’s trajectory on toxics, climate change, and biodiversity loss, the planet is at risk of becoming a human sacrifice zone.”

David Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, urged States to put the right to a healthy environment at the centre of all discussions and outcomes at the Stockholm+50 conference on 2 and 3 June, and to implement constitutional changes and stronger environmental laws, stemming from the recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, urged Stockholm+50 not to forget how human rights inspired key elements of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration. “This is a key moment for international environmental law to change direction and embrace a human rights-based approach to environmental protection”, he said.

The concept of the right to a healthy environment is rooted in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration. “Today, 50 years later, the Stockholm+50 conference represents the ideal forum to enthusiastically welcome the recent UN recognition of this right whilst also identifying urgent actions necessary for its implementation”, the experts said.

“Putting human rights at the centre of environmental action will have positive implications for air quality, clean water, healthy soil, sustainably produced food, green energy, climate change, biodiversity and the elimination of toxic substances and protection of indigenous people’s rights. Doing so has the potential to spark transformative changes and save millions of lives every year.

“We live in a time of unprecedented environmental challenges. The multiple crises relating to climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pervasive pollution are impacting the enjoyment of human rights and jeopardising the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

In October 2021, in a landmark resolution, the Human Rights Council recognised for the first time the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The resolution marked the culmination of decades of efforts by a diverse array of civil society organisations, including youth groups, national human rights institutions and indigenous peoples

The Special Rapporteurs encouraged States to act upon Council’s invitation that ‘the General Assembly […] consider the matter’ of the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment at its earliest convenience. A General Assembly resolution on the right to a healthy environment would reinforce the urgency of actions to implement the right.

“We are all extraordinarily fortunate to live on this miraculous planet, and we must use the right to a healthy environment to ensure governments, businesses and people do a better job of taking care of the home that we all share.”

* More information on the Stockholm+50 conference here.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights