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UN recognition of human right to healthy environment gives hope for planet’s future – human rights expert

08 October 2021

GENEVA (8 October 2021)  ̶  The Human Rights Council’s recognition today of the human right to a healthy environment is a historic breakthrough that has the potential to improve the life of everyone on the planet, says David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and environment.

“The world’s future looks a little bit brighter today,” Boyd said. “The United Nations, in an historical development, has for the first time recognised that everyone, everywhere, has a human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

“This has life-changing potential in a world where the global environmental crisis causes more than nine million premature deaths every year,” he said. “It will spark constitutional changes and stronger environmental laws, with positive implications for air quality, clean water, healthy soil, sustainably produced food, green energy, climate change, biodiversity and the use of toxic substances.”

Boyd thanked five Council members – Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – for bringing the resolution to adoption after civil society and communities, including  environmental, human rights, youth, women’s and indigenous peoples, had fought for it for 30 years.

Recognition of this right had also been endorsed by UN Secretary General António Guterres, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and 15 UN agencies, and was supported by young activists, business groups and more than 1,300 civil society organisations from around the world.

“This resolution is especially important for all of the environmental human rights defenders working, often at great personal risk, to safeguard the land, air, water and ecosystems that we all depend on,” Boyd said. “It is also vital for the people and communities who suffer disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation, including women, children, indigenous and other potentially vulnerable and marginalized populations.”

Boyd urged governments to incorporate the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in their constitutions and legislation. He urged leaders who will meet at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK starting at the end of the month, and at the UN conference on biodiversity (COP 15) starting in Kunming, China, next week, to put human rights at the centre of their actions.

“In a world that too often emphasizes the differences between people, the right to a healthy environment reflects a fundamental truth that should unite us all,” Boyd said.

“Everyone’s health and quality of life depends on clean air, safe water, sustainably produced food, a stable climate, and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems. We are all extraordinarily fortunate to live on this miraculous planet, and we must use the right to a healthy environment to ensure governments, businesses and people do a better job of taking care of the home that we all share.”


David R. Boyd (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment in 2018 and his mandate was renewed for three more years in March 2021. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

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 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.

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