UNESCO joins UN call for recognition of the right to a healthy environment

A UN interagency statement, supported by UNESCO and fourteen other UN agencies, calling for the recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was delivered by UNEP to the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council on 9 March 2021.

The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is of particular importance to UNESCO. Ensuring environmental preservation is essential in fulfilling the rights to take part in cultural life, to science and education and the long-term protection of human dignity for future generations. As such, the right to a healthy environment intersects with all areas of the Organization, specifically through ethical principles of climate change, education for sustainable development and issues related to ocean health, as well as specific projects such as the Man and Biosphere programme and the work on environmentally induced migration under the umbrella of the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme.

The formal recognition of this right at the global level will allow facing more effectively a multiple environmental crisis: climate change, loss of biodiversity, challenges to ocean health and pollution. It will also be instrumental for a more ambitious pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, as further delay could result in prologued and intensified inequalities, but also help strengthen protection for climate activists and human rights defenders, many of whom are youth, women and indigenous peoples.

“Rights of present and future generations depend on a healthy environment.”

Today over 150 UN member states recognize the right to a healthy environment.

From a substantive viewpoint, the groundwork for its formal recognition has been laid by a number of UN Special Rapporteurs who shed light on the nature of obligations that relate to healthy environment.

The UN initiative mirrors the pathway to the 2010 recognition of the right to water and sanitation by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. It sits within the context of the UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, and draws on a growing support for this right within both the civil society and private sector; the Call for the Global Recognition of the Right to a Healthy Environment, a letter addressed to the Human Rights Council on September 10, 2020 has been signed so far by 1,131 organizations.

The March 9 Statement was joined by the following agencies:

International Labour Organization (ILO)
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth (OSGEY)
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children (SRSG VAC)
UN Women
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
World Health Organization (WHO)

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