Environment Livelihoods

UNHRC declares access to a clean environment a fundamental human right

Access to a clean and healthy environment has been declared a fundamental human right. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday (Oct 8) adopted the resolution; formally adding its weight to the global fight against climate change and its disastrous effects.

The resolution was passed with the majority vote, despite criticism from notable nations such as the United States and Britain.

The resolution, first discussed in the 1990s, is not legally binding but has the potential to shape global standards. 

Lawyers involved in climate litigation say it could help build arguments in cases involving the environment and fundamental human right.

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“This has life-changing potential in a world where the global environmental crisis causes more than 9 million premature deaths every year,” said David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, who called the decision a “historic breakthrough”.

The text, proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland, was passed with 43 votes in favour. 

Russia, India, China, and Japan abstained from the vote.

Britain, which was among the critics of the proposal voted in favor, in a last-minute move while the US did not vote since it is not currently a member of the 47-member Council. 

The British ambassador to the UN, Rita French, said the UK was voting “yes” because it shared supporters’ ambition to tackle climate change but added that states would not be bound to the resolution’s terms.

Costa Rica’s ambassador, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, said the decision will “send a powerful message to communities around the world struggling with climate hardship that they are not alone”.

Critics had raised various objections, saying the Council was not the appropriate forum and citing legal concerns.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 13.7 million deaths a year, or around 24.3 percent of the global total, are due to environmental risks such as air pollution and chemical exposure.

Another proposal led by the Marshall Islands to create a new special rapporteur on climate change was also approved by the Council on Friday.

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