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Right to a healthy and sustainable environment report

This report, prepared jointly by the former Special Rapporteur Mr. John Knox (2012-2018) and the current Special Rapporteur Mr. David Boyd (2018 – present), examines the relevance and importance of the potential recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the UN (A/73/188).

Background of the report

There is now widespread agreement that human rights norms apply to environmental issues, including the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The former Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Mr. John Knox, developed Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment that set forth three sets of duties that engage both States and businesses: procedural obligations; substantive obligations; and obligations relating to those in vulnerable situations.

Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 37/8, the former Special Rapporteur, Mr. Knox submitted the report on the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment to the General Assembly before the end of his term. His successor, Mr. David R. Boyd, then presented the report to the General Assembly in October 2018.

Mr. Boyd recalls that the right to a healthy environment has been recognized by a majority of States in their constitutions, legislation, and various regional treaties to which they are parties. However, in spite of the wide recognition of its crucial importance, the right to a healthy environment has not yet been recognized as such.

Conclusions of the report

In this report (A/73/188), the Special Rapporteur points out that the greening of well-established human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, housing, culture, development, property and home, and private life, has contributed to improvements in the health and well-being of people worldwide. However, more work needs to be done to further clarify and, more importantly, implement and fulfil the human rights obligations relating to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  

The Special Rapporteur writes that the time has come for the UN to formally recognize the human right to a healthy environment. Legal recognition of this right would acknowledge that this right must be universally protected, and would fill a glaring gap in the architecture of international human rights. Further, it would be consistent with, and reinforce, the actions that many States and regions are already taking, resulting in benefits such as:

  • Stronger environmental laws and policies;
  • Improved implementation and enforcement;
  • Greater public participation in environmental decision-making;
  • Reduced environmental injustices;
  • A level playing field with social and economic rights;
  • And better environmental performance.

Read the 2018 report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, available in the 6 UN official languages.

Preparation of the report

In preparation of the report, Mr. Knox consulted with Dr. Boyd. In effect, the report is a joint report of the former holder of the mandate, Mr. Knox and his successor, Mr. Boyd, following a series of consultations with respective stakeholders.