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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Expert seminar: Is there a human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment?

06 February 2020

Video message by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 6 February 2020

Greetings, and thank you for this opportunity to address a topic that can help us transform the lives of millions of people.

Mass extinction, extreme weather, and pollution of our air, water and food threaten all of humanity – and all of our human rights.

States have a clear obligation, under international human rights law, to prevent the adverse impacts on human rights of these and other forms of environmental degradation.

A healthy environment is just as vital as shelter, clean water, and freedom of expression.

All people, everywhere, should have the right to live in a healthy environment – and they should be able to hold to account those who impede fulfillment of that right.

More than 150 countries already recognize this basic reality through their Constitutions, national laws, and regional agreements that acknowledge the right to a healthy environment.

Global recognition of the human right to a healthy environment is the natural – and the necessary – next step, to drive better, more ambitious policies to protect both people and planet.

Today, across the world, a very uneven mosaic of environmental and human rights standards stands between people and environmental disaster. Many people have no effective recourse when we suffer environmental harm.

Strong action to recognize and implement the right to a healthy environment can powerfully shift that reality.

This is why I am calling on all States to develop and enforce laws that protect and fulfill the human right to a healthy environment – and to work together to ensure universal recognition and implementation of this right.

I hope your discussions today can contribute to this outcome. Thank you for standing up for human rights.