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

Started in January 2022

Context

In 2021 and 2022, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly (UNGA) endorsed resolutions recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (R2HE). While broadly lauded as a breakthrough for environmental protection, experts remain divided on whether a non-binding resolution will be able to overcome a lack of consensus and vested interests within and between states or mark a critical step towards tighter environmental accountability and enforcement.

One point of agreement is that its implementation requires a clarified understanding of its content, related states ‘obligations, as well as its interconnection with other human rights, and that evidence is needed on how this soft-law instrument has been used to bring changes in national laws and policies.

Objectives

This project will start by clarifying the definition of the R2HE, its content – including substantive and procedural aspects –, related states’ obligations, as well as its interconnections with other human rights.

In a second phase, the research will address its implementation and how UNGA resolution A/76/300 that endorsed this right has led to changes in domestic laws and policies, has influenced court cases or has been referred to in decisions taken by regional and international human rights mechanisms.

Such insights will be instructive for policy-makers, development programming agencies, environmental advocates, civil society, tribunals, and experts, as well as regional and international human rights mechanisms.

NEWS AND UPCOMING EVENTS

Open dump's view from the sky News

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 explores the implications of the recently recognised right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, with a focus on the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

Read more >

Scavengers Burning Trash, Tondo Garbage Dump, Manila Philippines News

New Research on the Right to a Healthy Environment

22 March 2022

This project forms part of our research cluster on sustainable development that aims to explore the linkages between sustainable development, the protection of the environment, climate change and the branches of international law that protect the rights of the most vulnerable.

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RESEARCHERS

Picture of Christophe Golay

Christophe Golay

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Christophe Golay's expertise relates to economic, social and cultural rights, the right to food and the rights of peasants.

Portrait of Dr Dr Baïna Ubushieva

Baïna Ubushieva

Associate Research Fellow

Her expertise and publications are centred around international and European human rights law, with a particular focus on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

OUTPUT

Detailing the Contours and Next Steps for the Right to a Healthy Environment

Building on the recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the first phase of this research – completed in 2022 – aimed to mainstream this right and the protection it affords in the work of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and Geneva-based human rights mechanisms.

Published in December 2022, our briefing Human Rights and the Environmentand its research brief The Right to a Healthy Environment detail the contours of this right and the relationship between human rights and the environment, formulating concrete recommendations on its mainstreaming in the work and resolutions of the UNGA and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

At a side event during the 51st session of the HRC – co-organized with the permanent missions of Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Switzerland and Slovenia to the UN in Geneva – diplomats, representatives from NGOs and international organizations and experts also discussed the implementation of this right and the role of the HRC in this.

Publications

Cover of the publication

Right to a Healthy Environment

December 2022

Megan Donald

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download >

Cover of the publication

Briefing N° 21: Human Rights and the Environment

December 2022

Megan Donald

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download > Download >

Past Events

Promoting and Protecting the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

14 September 2022, 19:00-20:30

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