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Rethinking business and economic paradigms for people and planet to survive: UN expert

06 March 2024

GENEVA (6 March 2024) – There is an urgent need to rethink business and economic paradigms that have pushed humanity’s collective impacts beyond planetary limits, a UN expert said today.

“We are sabotaging Earth’s life support system, with profound consequences for human rights,” said David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

In his report to the Human Rights Council, he stated that the current practices of large businesses are threatening the ecological integrity of the planet and abusing human rights, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

“States have failed to adequately regulate, monitor, prevent and punish businesses for their abuses of the climate, environment and human rights,” Boyd said. “The situation is further exacerbated as States often encourage, enable and subsidise destructive business activities.”

The Special Rapporteur highlighted some of the most destructive impacts of business enterprises on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which are also documented in a policy brief supplementing his report.

“All businesses are responsible for respecting human rights, including the right to a healthy environment,” he said.

The expert stressed that States have a duty to protect human rights from actual and potential harm that businesses may cause, and an obligation to hold businesses accountable.

“The recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment has game-changing potential if States and businesses comply with their obligations and responsibilities,” he said.

Boyd made recommendations on how to fulfil this right and achieve ecological sustainability. He called for shifting to holistic alternatives to GDP for measuring progress, human rights due diligence legislation, rights-based climate and environmental laws, making polluters pay, and new business paradigms focused on society benefits instead of shareholder profits.

“In the big picture, humanity needs to shrink its collective ecological footprint, yet billions of people in the global South need to expand their energy and material use to achieve a comfortable standard of living and fully enjoy their human rights,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Society must confront this paradox. Wealthy States must take the lead in reducing their footprints and financing sustainable and equitable growth in the global South.”

“Paradoxically, businesses have a critical role in supporting society’s quest for a just and sustainable future. Therefore, we need to promote good practices and require all businesses to shift to a paradigm that puts people and the planet before profit,” the expert said.

ENDS

David R. Boyd (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on 1 August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. @SREnvironment

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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 organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

 

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