Access to a safe, clean and healthy environment recognized as a Human Right

On Friday October 8, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations passed a resolution to recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right, and to appoint an expert to monitor human rights in the context of the climate emergency. 

Header photo: Aerial shot by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

The right to a safe, clean and healthy environment encompasses the environmental dimensions of the rights to life, health, food, water, sanitation, property, private life, culture, and non-discrimination, among others. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 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. 

‘In a time of an ever increasing environmental degradation, this could not have come at a better time,’ says Antoinette Sprenger, expert Nature and Human Rights at IUCN NL. ‘This recognition will hopefully lead to action and push for a change in policies that will protect people and nature.’ 

‘In a time of an ever increasing environmental degradation, this could not have come at a better time,’ says Antoinette Sprenger, expert Nature and Human Rights at IUCN NL. ‘This recognition will hopefully lead to action and push for a change in policies that will protect people and nature.’ 

Firm measures to protect environmental human rights defenders


During the session the High Commissioner of the Human Rights Council also noted that an unprecedented number of environmental human rights defenders were killed last year, urging Member States to take firm measures to protect and empower them. 

‘I hope that this acknowledgement will contribute to a better position and protection of environmental human rights defenders,’ Sprenger says. “What is also really important to better protect environmental and human rights defenders worldwide, is an international binding treaty for business and human rights, which will ensure that companies can be held accountable when they cause human rights abuses and that victims have access to remedy.’

The increasing violence against environmental defenders was also a central concern during the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille. In the Marseille Manifesto, which sets the agenda for nature conservation for the next four years, IUCN commits to work to protect environmental defenders and urges its members and partners to do the same.

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Antoinette Sprenger

Senior Expert Environmental Justice

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