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Environmental hazards kill 8 million a year: UN expert urges global recognition of the human right to a healthy environment

Healthy environment a human right

25 October 2018

NEW YORK (25 October 2018) – A UN human rights expert called on States to recognise the right to a healthy environment, in order to fight the scourges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution that kill over 8 million people each year.

 In a report to the UN General Assembly in New York, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd, said the time had come for the United Nations to formally recognise the human right to a healthy environment.

“This would not only be consistent with the state of the law in most of the world, but would also provide important and tangible benefits,” he said.

 Boyd said 155 States already have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to a healthy environment. In more than 100 countries, the right to a healthy environment enjoys constitutional status — the strongest form of legal protection available, and at least 130 States have ratified regional human rights treaties that explicitly include the right to a healthy environment — treaties covering Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and Europe.

 “The global recognition of the right to a healthy environment would complement, reinforce and amplify the existing domestic and regional legal framework,” the UN expert said. “Recognition of the right by the United Nations would acknowledge that this right must be universally protected.” 

 Boyd said a human being’s life ends prematurely every four seconds due to exposure to pollution and other environmental hazards. “What could be more fundamental than the right to clean air, safe water and food, a safe and stable climate, thriving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems?”

 “As the devastating impacts of pollution, climate change, and extinction accelerate, it becomes essential to use every tool available to address these planetary challenges. Recognising that everyone has the right to live in a healthy and sustainable environment is a powerful approach, as we learned from human rights victories of the abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights movement,” he concluded.   


The presentation of the thematic report at the General Assembly today will be live-streamed in the United Nations Web TV.

David R. Boyd was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment for a three-year term commencing August 1, 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. His career has included serving as the executive director of Ecojustice, appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada, and working as a special advisor on sustainability for Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. He has advised many governments on environmental, constitutional, and human rights policy and co-chaired Vancouver’s effort to become the world’s greenest city by 2020. He is a member of the World Commission on Environmental Law, an expert advisor for the UN’s Harmony with Nature Initiative, and a member of ELAW, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.

The Special Rapporteurs 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. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms. Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 917 92 67 / [email protected] ) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human