A green recovery starts with the right to a healthy environment

Momentum builds behind the campaign for universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

Sean McCabe22/04/2021

The 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC46) in Geneva last month may be remembered as a watershed moment in the global campaign for universal recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The March session saw scores of countries sign up to a statement indicating the commencement of a dialogue process between states and other stakeholders with a view to securing the international recognition of the right. This is a moment of particular significance for children and young people, who are disproportionately vulnerable to environmental harm.

“It is our belief that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights. Therefore the possible recognition of the right at a global level would have numerous important implications on what we leave to our future generations,” said the Maldives, addressing the virtual Human Rights Council gathering on behalf of a core group of states that have been leading the consultations. The core group, which also includes Slovenia, Morocco, Costa Rica and Switzerland, subsequently released a statement in pursuit of universal recognition of the right. The statement was subsequently signed by 69 countries. A list of signatory countries is presented below. 

A UN Joint Statement, led by UNEP and co-signed by 15 other UN entities including the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, the Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, said that the rights of present and future generations depend on a healthy environment. It underscored that the right to a healthy environment is recognized by over 150 UN member states, but it has not been formally recognized at the global level thereby delaying achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Right to a Healthy Environment campaign, which was launched just 6 months earlier at the 45th Human Rights Council session in 2020, has now been signed by more than 1,150 organizations from civil society, social, environmental, youth, gender equality and human rights movements, trade unions, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities, from more than 100 countries.

During the interactive dialogue, the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI), Child Rights Connect Working Group on Child Rights and the Environment and Terre des Hommes delivered a joint statement for the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment drawing attention to the relationship between children's rights and the environment and calls on governments to recognize the right to a healthy environment, a step of particular relevance to children and future generations. Over 90 organizations across the world have endorsed the statement. 

“The UN should formally recognise the right to a healthy environment as soon as possible. It would provide comprehensive protection against environmental harm, spur all states to prioritize actions to implement this vital human right and empower those working to protect the environment. Such a step would be of particular relevance to children and future generations, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of environmental harm.” the joint statement read.

The universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment appears to be closer than ever before. Significantly, next year marks the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden in June 1972. The conference, which led to the development of UNEP, was the first world conference to make the environment a major issue and the conference declaration recognised that the natural environment is essential to the well-being of humanity and to the enjoyment of basic human rights.

As we begin to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and the talk of a green recovery intensifies, it seems to make sense that countries would come together to make the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment the foundation for this recovery. Indeed, this should not be a challenging proposition – today more than 100 constitutions across the world have adopted a human right to a healthy environment, which is proving to be a powerful way to protect the natural world. Governments around the world can signal their commitment to a genuine, green recovery by rallying behind the core group and securing universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment in time for the 50th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment, to be marked in Stockholm in 2022.

List of Cosponsors - Joint Statement on Environment HRC 46

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Maldives
  3. Switzerland 
  4. Morocco 
  5. Slovenia 
  6. Guatemala
  7. Panama
  8. Montenegro
  9. Monaco
  10. Albania
  11. Kenya
  12. San Marino
  13. Marshall Islands
  14. Kazakhstan
  15. Liechtenstein
  16. Nepal
  17. Ireland
  18. Bhutan
  19. Uruguay
  20. Peru
  21. Chile
  22. Ecuador
  23. Madagascar
  24. Bahamas
  25. Luxembourg
  26. Greece
  27. Italy
  28. Portugal 
  29. Spain
  30. Republic of Korea
  31. Palestine
  32. Austria
  33. Sierra Leone 
  34. Cape Verde
  35. Bangladesh
  36. Malaysia 
  37. Fiji
  38. Germany 
  39. Slovakia
  40. Ukraine 
  41. El Salvador 
  42. Honduras
  43. Argentina
  44. Malta
  45. Cyprus 
  46. Denmark
  47. Iceland
  48. Poland
  49. France 
  50. North Macedonia 
  51. Georgia 
  52. Paraguay 
  53. Tunisia 
  54. Lithuania
  55. Finland
  56. Romania
  57. Estonia
  58. Latvia
  59. Sweden
  60. Philippines
  61. Barbados 
  62. Mexico
  63. Croatia
  64. Mauritius
  65. Belgium
  66. Central African Republic
  67. Niger
  68. Mali
  69. Vanuatu

This blog was written for the the Children's Environmental Rights Initiative on Earth Day 2021. The initiative is conducted under the auspices of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment and convenes core partners working on children's rights around the world. TASC support the work of the initiative by providing strategic advocacy guidance. Visit www.childrenvironment.org for more information.

Sean McCabe

Sean McCabe.PNG

Sean holds an B.Sc in Applied Physics from Dublin City University and an M.Sc. in Development Practice awarded by Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. Prior to joining TASC, Sean worked as a Policy Officer with the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice for five years. During this time he engaged with the negotiations leading to the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He also led the Foundation’s work on intergenerational equity. Sean spent five years working in the private sector, as a catastrophe risk analyst with Renaissance Reinsurance. He also spent 2 years working in a hospice in Kolkata, India, and worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in Sierra Leone building the agencies capacity in Geographic Information Systems.


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Sean McCabe

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