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Biodiversity and Human Rights


In response to increasing threats to biodiversity and ecosystems in the past decades, the global community has taken a number of important actions. Examples include the Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force in 1993 and is now one of the most widely ratified treaties in the world. Conservation of biological diversity was the subject of Chapter 15 of Agenda 21, which was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, Member States recognized “the severity of global biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems” and emphasized the adverse impact that this situation has on “food security and nutrition, provision of and access to water, health of the rural poor and of people worldwide, including present and future generations.” Goal 15 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is devoted to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

The loss of biodiversity may interfere with the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, livelihood, water, housing, culture. The rights of indigenous peoples and others particularly reliant on healthy ecosystems are especially subject to threat. Biodiversity and human rights are closely linked and interdependent. The full enjoyment of many human rights depends on healthy ecosystems; at the same time, effective biodiversity policies depend on the exercise of human rights, including rights to information and participation, and require taking into account the rights of those who live in protected areas or who are otherwise directly affected by the policies.
Despite the close linkages, the two areas have often developed in parallel and in isolation from each other. Their relationship is not well-understood or clearly defined. There is a gap in assessing biodiversity/ecosystems policies from a human rights perspective. Furthermore, there is a need to clarify States’ human rights obligations pertaining to policies on biodiversity/ecosystems.

Against this backdrop, the Special Rapporteur seeks to clarify human rights obligations relating to biodiversity by exploring the relationship of the two and by assessing the effects of biodiversity on the enjoyment of human rights. He is interested in examining the legal framework, identifying gaps and analysing how human rights obligations in biodiversity policies and programmes are implemented at various levels (e.g., at the national, local and municipal levels) and by different government bodies (e.g., ministries of environment, development, agriculture, mining, etc.) in practice. He is also interested in clarifying heightened obligations of States in protecting individuals and groups who are in a vulnerable situation.


The Special Rapporteur is inviting contributions from all interested stakeholders for the preparation of his upcoming thematic report on biodiversity and human rights, to be presented at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council:

Submission of responses

Responses to the questionnaire can be sent to srenvironment@ohchr.org (encouraged) or addressed to:

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax : +41 22 917 9006

Due to a limited capacity for translation, we kindly request that your responses to the questionnaire be in English, French or Spanish. We kindly request that your submission be concise and limited to a maximum of 5 pages (or 3,000 words).

All submissions to the questionnaire are available here.

In this section
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To access the official independent website of the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Mr. John Knox, please visit: www.srenvironment.org

Follow the Special Rapporteur: @SREnvironment

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