United Nations Human Rights Council adopts an updated resolution on the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment
On 4 April 2023 the United Nations Human Rights Council (Human Rights Council) adopted its first resolution following the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s recognition of the universal right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, on 28 July 2022. The reaffirmation of this universal right also follows the UN General Assembly’s request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on states’ obligations to address climate change.
In concluding its 52nd regular session, the Human Rights Council adopted the resolution by consensus, which demonstrates the continued global momentum toward effective legal protection of the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.
The resolution provides various immediate, cross-cutting, steps to ensure that the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is realised. Recalling that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and recognising the disproportionate impacts from environmental harm and climate change on already vulnerable groups, including women and girls, the resolution calls upon states to:
- respect, protect and fulfil human rights in all actions undertaken to address environmental challenges;
- adopt and implement strong laws that ensure the rights to participation, access to information, and access to justice in environmental matters;
- facilitate public awareness and participation in environmental decision-making;
- fully implement obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, without any discrimination, in the application of environmental laws and policies;
- promote a safe and enabling environment for those working on human rights and environmental issues, including environmental human right defenders;
- provide for effective remedies for human rights violations and abuses, including those relating to the enjoyment of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment;
- establish, maintain and strengthen effective and institutional frameworks to prevent, reduce and remedy harm to biodiversity and ecosystems;
- consider obligations and commitments in relation to the enjoyment of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in implementing and following up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and
- increase funding and support, and collaboration with, grass-roots women’s organisations working on environmental and human rights issues.
The resolution also encourages states to adopt other measures toward the enjoyment of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, such as building capacity for efforts to protect the environment, exploring ways to incorporate information on human rights and the environment to teach current and future generations to act as agents of change, and to foster responsible private business sectors. As a result, private businesses will be obliged to act in a way that promotes peoples’ right to an environment that is clean, healthy, and sustainable. This aligns with the African Commission’s recent call upon the African Union to update its Policy Framework on Business and Human Rights and to address gaps in the implementation of member states obligations regarding business and human rights under the African Charter and related soft law instruments, such as the Africa Regional Blue Economy Strategy.
Finally, the resolution requests the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner, to convene a one-day expert seminar on the responsibility of business enterprises to respect the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, before the end of 2023. States, UN bodies, and other relevant stakeholders, including academic experts, civil society organizations, business and finance representatives, will be invited to participate actively in the seminar. The Special Rapporteur is expected to a submit summary report on the seminar to the Human Rights Council, including any recommendations for consideration and follow-up action.
Resolution A_HRC_52_L.7 is available here.
The register of resolutions adopted during the 52nd regular session is available here.
This advisory note was prepared by ALT Advisory’s new Climate Justice & Sustainability Practice (CJS). With an emphasis on implementation, monitoring, and impact reporting, CJS aims to build climate-resilience through digital transformation and climate and environmental justice. Find out more here.
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