UN agency declares a new international human right

(CU)_As the impact of humans on the natural world continues to intensify, we are made more and more aware of our dependence on the planet and its ecosystems. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, and crops and fish populations that nourish millions of people, the mere existence of human beings depend on a healthy environment. These connections bolstered a legal argument on the importance of intact ecosystems and a stable climate over the recent years.

As a result, an expert on international environmental law and human rights law at Wake Forest University, John Knox was appointed by the United Nations to investigate the relationship between human rights and the environment as an independent expert back in 2012. After several years of research, Knox determined that a healthy environment is as important to human life as health, education, freedom of expression and other rights which are generally accepted under human rights law.

Now, his findings have been finally reaffirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, which declared for the first time that having a health and sustainable environment is indeed a human right. In its announcement the agency called on member-states to collaborate with each other to ensure the protection of this newly recognised right and passed a second resolution which focused on the establishment of a Special Rapporteur to look in to the impacts human rights in relation to climate change.

The landmark decision was applauded by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who described the threats of climate change, nature loss and pollution as the single greatest human rights challenge of our era.

“The Human Rights Council’s decisive action in recognising the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is about protecting people and planet – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. It is also about protecting the natural systems which are basic preconditions to the lives and livelihoods of all people, wherever they live,” the former president of Chile noted. “Having long called for such a step, I am gratified that the Council’s action today clearly recognises environmental degradation and climate change as interconnected human rights crises.”

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