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“Connect with nature, before it is too late” – UN expert urges all governments to save biodiversity

World Environment Day – Monday 5 June

GENEVA (1 June 2016) – Speaking ahead of the World Environment Day on Monday 5 June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox, urges all States to do more to fulfil their existent obligations to protect the world’s biological diversity from extinction.

“We should all be alarmed at the accelerating loss of biodiversity on which healthy ecosystems depend. We should also be fully aware that we cannot enjoy our basic human rights without a healthy environment.

While the eyes of the international community are justifiably focused on the future of the Paris agreement on climate change, this year’s World Environment Day brings us an opportunity to celebrate our intimate relation to nature.

We depend on healthy natural ecosystems for so much – nutrition, shelter, clothing, the very water we drink and the air we breathe. And yet, natural forest area continues to decline, marine ecosystems are increasingly under siege, and estimated populations of vertebrate animals have declined by more than half since 1970.

Many scientists fear that we are at the outset of the sixth global extinction of species around the world, the first in over 60 million years.

States have reached agreements to combat the causes of biodiversity loss, which include habitat destruction, over-exploitation, poaching, pollution and climate change. But the same States are woefully failing to meet their commitments to reverse these disturbing trends.

Nearly one third of natural and mixed World Heritage sites reportedly suffer from illegal poaching, logging and fishing, which have driven endangered species to the brink of extinction and threatened the livelihoods and well-being of communities who depend on them. 

The extinction of species and the loss of microbial diversity undermines our rights to life and health by destroying potential sources for new medicines and weakening human immunity. Reduced variety, yield and security of fisheries and agriculture endangers our right to food. Nature’s weakened ability to filter, regulate and store water threatens the right of access to clean and safe water.

Without healthy ecosystems, governments will be severely challenged to meet their commitments on sustainable development. Biodiversity and human rights are interlinked and interdependent, and States have obligations to protect both. In that connection, they should carry out their commitments to implement legal and institutional frameworks for biodiversity protection.

Governments should ensure public information and participation in biodiversity-related decisions and provide access to effective remedies for its loss and degradation.

Park rangers, indigenous peoples and others who put their lives on the line to safeguard natural ecosystems should be recognized as human rights defenders and protected.

The World Environment Day is an opportunity to appreciate nature’s beauty and its importance to humanity. For us to truly connect to it, we must collectively encourage our Governments to fulfill their legal obligations to protect the Earth, its biodiversity and those who defend it from harm.”

NOTE TO EDITORS:

The Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the Human Rights Council, in March 2017, focused on the relationship between human rights and biodiversity, illustrating its many connections to healthy human life and stressing the dependence of the world’s sustainable development on healthy ecosystems.

Professor John H. Knox (USA) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 as Independent Expert, and reappointed in 2015 as Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Council requested him, a professor of international law at Wake Forest University in the United States, to clarify the application of human rights norms to environmental protection, and to identify best practices in the use of human rights obligations in environmental policy-making.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Jamshid Gaziyev (+41 22 91 79183 / srenvironment@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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