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46th session of the Human Rights Council
Side event: #TheTimeIsNow – the case for universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment


Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

23 February 2021

Excellencies,

Colleagues, friends,

The report being launched today is an important milestone in the case for universal recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

I am proud to continue to contribute to this cause.

Recognition of the right to a healthy environment is not just a legal question – although its legal foundation is sound. It is a question of survival. It is about what it means to be a human being, and to act in solidarity with others. It is about our rights.

We are all dependent on the environment. We all owe our sustenance, our quality of life and our existence itself to the complex web of life on this planet. All this and more is jeopardized by global heating, pollution and nature loss – a series of man-made catastrophes that the Secretary-General has described as a suicidal war on nature.

But powerful, coordinated, transformative action can still push back this damage. It is still possible to support health and well-being for everyone.

Recognising the human right to a healthy environment means committing to advancing a safe and stable climate, healthy ecosystems and a non-toxic environment, with justice and inclusion for all.

It should be clear that all of us, without exception, are entitled to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and safe food to eat. And we all have a right to stand up to protect our environment for present and future generations.

Recognition of the human right to a healthy environment will empower people to demand access to full and accurate environmental information. This, in turn, will help ensure access to justice for those affected by environmental harms, and will mean everyone can be fully informed and able to participate in environmental policy-making.

Today, the people who are being hardest hit by climate change, nature loss and pollution are overwhelmingly those who have contributed the least to causing them. We have to guarantee that they, and all others can participate in pushing back .

Universal recognition of the human right to a healthy environment will empower everyone to exercise and defend this right, through activist movements, political choices and in the courts. It will encourage Governments to implement this right, and the UN system to mobilize and support it.

I am honoured to join you in declaring, at the beginning of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council and the Fifth UN Environment Assembly, that the time for recognition of the human right to a healthy environment is now.

Thank you.