Historic day for human rights and a healthy planet: UN expert

10 08 2022 | 22:54

NEW YORK – A UN expert hailed the adoption of a historic resolution by the United Nations General Assembly today, recognising for the first time, that everyone, everywhere, has a human right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

“The resolution has the potential to be a turning point for humanity, improving the life and enjoyment of human rights of billions of individuals as well as the health of our extraordinary planet,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd.

“In the face of the triple environmental crisis, the recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is of vital importance”, he stressed.

“The health and quality of life of everyone directly depend on clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, sustainably produced food to eat, non-toxic environments, a safe climate, and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems,” the UN expert said. “The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as recognised universally today, includes all of those substantial elements.”

This historic breakthrough for people and the planet is expected to be a catalyst for more ambitious climate action and progress towards environmental justice. Similar processes, such as the recognition of the rights to water and sanitation by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, sparked a range of positive and transformative changes in laws, policies and outcomes around the world, benefitting millions of people. 

“Similarly, the recognition of the right to a healthy environment should lead to constitutional and legislative improvements at the regional, national, and sub-national levels, with positive implications for air quality, safe and sufficient water, healthy soil, sustainably produced food, green energy, climate change, biodiversity and the regulation of toxic substances,” Boyd said.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the strengthening of legal frameworks should contribute to on-the-ground changes in environmental quality that improve the lives of billions of people. “The right to a healthy environment also empowers millions of people, found in every nation on Earth, who are striving to achieve a just and sustainable future, many of whom face threats, violence and even criminalisation for their heroic efforts,” he said.

“I urge all States to incorporate the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in their constitutions and legislation, or to strengthen existing provisions.”

“Accelerated and ambitious actions are urgently needed to realise this fundamental human right for every person on this beautiful blue-green planet,” Boyd said. “It is time for truly transformative action based on the common standard of achievement provided by universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment.” 

The recognition of the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment by the General Assembly follows the adoption of a similar resolution by the Human Rights Council in October 2021 (A/HRC/RES/48/13).


David R. Boyd was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment in August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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