New Publication Details the Contours and Next Steps for the Right to a Healthy Environment

9 January 2023

Our new publication Human Rights and the Environment – authored by our Associate Research Fellow Dr Megan Donald – explores the implications of the recently recognized right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, with a focus on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) and the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

‘The UNGA recognition of the right to a healthy environment constitutes an important milestone. We aim, with this new publication, to build on this recognition by providing needed guidance to this body, states, the HRC, other UN human rights mechanisms, supervisory bodies of multilateral environmental agreements, as well as experts and NGOs on how to mainstream it in their work and resolutions’ explains Dr Christophe Golay, Senior Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘This mainstreaming, in turn, will assist judicial and administrative decision-making related to the environment and human rights, encourage states to prioritize the implementation of this right through legislation, policy and resource allocation, and potentially provide access to justice and remedies for those who suffer from the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change’ he adds.

Clarifying the Scope and Content of the Right to a Healthy Environment

The historic recognition of the right to a healthy environment has important implications for the relationship between human rights and the content of both international environmental law and human rights law.

Although recently recognized, the right to a healthy environment is not new. Its content has been discussed in various national, regional and international instruments and jurisprudence. The work of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment has examined these sources and is an important guide in clarifying the content and scope of the right.

‘This publication, by giving an overview of the relationship between human rights and the environment, examining the meaning of the right to a healthy environment and the implications of its recognition, and by considering the relationship between human rights and the environment in HRC and UNGA resolutions contributes to clarifying the content and scope of this right’ explains Dr Megan Donald, Associate Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

Young girl in an open dump

Recommendations for Future UNGA and HRC Resolutions

Many HRC and UNGA resolutions already recognize the important interdependent relationship between human rights and the environment. Future resolutions of this nature can strengthen these links between human rights and the environment through references to the right to a healthy environment, or elements thereof.

The publication recommends that future resolutions of these two bodies affirm the right to a healthy environment and include specific references to the right when dealing with thematic areas closely related to human rights and the environment. These should notably incorporate the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment's Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment, as well as the elements of the right to a healthy environment.

A Shorter Version for Policy-Makers

The main findings and recommendations entailed in this publication are summarized in a Research Brief aimed at policy-makers who negotiate resolutions at the HRC and UNGA.

The two publications will be presented and discussed with various stakeholders via a series of events scheduled in 2023.

‘We will continue to work on this important topic with a focus on the recognition and implementation of the right to a healthy environment at the national level’ explains Dr Golay.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Yemeni women live in the open after being displaced from their homes due to the war in Taiz News

New Publication Unpacks UN Human Rights Council's Potential Role in Preventing Climate-Induced Conflicts

29 January 2024

Our new Research Brief explores the potential role of the UN Human Rights Council as an actor in the prevention of climate-related conflicts, alongside other multilateral efforts within the UN system.

Read more

Fresh green trees from above Event

The Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment: Consensus Building on its Scope and Links with Other Human Rights

5 March 2024, 14:30-15:30

This side event to the HRC 55th session will discuss the scope of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment and its links with other human rights.

Read more

Open dump Training

Protecting Human Rights and the Environment

2-20 September 2024

Participants in this training course, made of two modules, will examine the major international and regional instruments for the promotion of human rights and the environment, familiarizing themselves with the respective implementation and enforcement mechanisms.

Read more

Plastic pollution on an Italian shore Project

Unpacking the Human Right to a Healthy Environment: Definition, Implementation and Impact

Started in January 2022

This research aims at mainstreaming the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and the protection it affords in the work of the UN Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and Universal Periodic Review, as well as in the work of the UN General Assembly and UN treaty bodies.

Read more

Cover Page of Research Brief Publication

Environmental Human Rights as a Tool in Early Warning and Conflict Prevention The Role of the Human Rights Council

published on January 2024

Erica Harper, Baïna Ubushieva

Read more

Cover page of the research brief Publication

Le Droit aux Semences en Afrique

published on June 2023

Christophe Golay, Karine Peschard

Read more