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WWF Annual Conference

Video Message by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

16 April 2021

I am pleased to address your Annual Conference.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, among many lessons, taught us even more about the dangers that arise from environmental degradation.

I thank WWF for advancing the human right to safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Protecting this right is increasingly key as we face the ongoing crises of biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change.

I welcome your commitment to human rights, including by appointing an Independent Review Panel to assess the human rights impacts of your work.

I commend you for the steps taken to implement the Panel’s recommendations, as well as due diligence efforts, consistent with the recommendations of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

I am also encouraged by WWF’s recent work to better integrate human rights into the law enforcement work by wildlife rangers. My Office is pleased to support these efforts.


The climate emergency, biodiversity and habitat loss, destruction and degradation of lands, and pollution of air and waterways are overarching threats to several human rights.

Among them are the rights to life, health, food, clean drinking water and sanitation, housing, and culture.

The impacts are devastating and already upon all of us.

But, as in other crises, like COVID-19, they are not felt equally.

Far too often, those who are already exposed to human rights gaps coming from structural discrimination and inequalities are the most affected by the damage we are doing to our environment –damage they have often contributed to the least.

There can be no doubt that, as a global community, we face several intersecting emergencies: COVID-19; the widespread pollution of air, water, and land; the climate crisis; the grave structural inequalities in our societies and economies.

Addressing these challenges, however, brings us the enormous opportunity to build a better future for people and planet. More equitable and sustainable societies centered in human rights.

As we know, human rights enable effective environmental action.

Guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples to consultation over their traditional lands is one of the most important measures we can take to ensure conservation of those lands and their associated ecosystems.

Realization of women’s equal rights to land and livelihoods increases uptake of sustainable production methods and protects the right to food for all.

Effective protection of environmental defenders, and active promotion of an open and safe civic space is critical, as emphasized in the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights and the new UN Guidance Note on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space.

Environmental action built on the participation and leadership of affected communities, especially indigenous peoples, can even help to remedy historical and structural inequalities while remedying environmental harms.

As the global community recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we prepare for the upcoming Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming and the UNFCCC in Glasgow, we have our most important chance, which may be our last.

To face these environmental crises together.

To take concrete, ambitious action to reimagine our relationship to nature.

To protect this home that we all share.

To build a more just, more equitable world for current and future generations.

I count on WWF as a key partner.

We look forward to working with you to integrate the conservation agenda with combatting structural inequalities and the full realization of human rights.

Thank you.