UN Declares Access to a Clean Environment is a Human Right

On Friday the 8th of October, the United Nations HRC (Human Rights Council) passed resolution 48/13, formally and officially recognizing that access to a sustainable, clean and healthy environment was not just a perk, but a human right.


43 votes came in favour of the resolution, with a total of four abstentions (these abstentions being Russia, China, Japan and India). As the US is currently not a member of the HRC (following its departure from the council in 2018) they did not get a chance to participate in voting. Implications of their absence include a loss of the UNHRC's credibility, other Member States will be able to push forward their agendas (agenda’s which may not follow certain human rights programs) and finally a reduction or ‘cutback’ in funding.


Why is a ruling like this crucial in today’s day and age?


Unfortunately, 24% of the world’s mortality rate (roughly 13.7 million people) is caused by a large amount of environmental issues and risks; these risks including chemical exposure, air, soil and water pollution and climate change (as well as many more), which are accountable for many injuries and diseases contracted by citizens worldwide, rightfully expecting to live a healthy life. Especially in the face of a pandemic, and an ever on-going climate crisis that is worsened by our careless actions, motions such as these are crucial if we want to continue a long and healthy life on planet Earth.


Photo Credit: gnhre.org


After the official ruling was made, the room broke out in applause – suitably, as this was not only a joyous occasion but also a necessary step for humanity. Executive Director of UNEP (the United Nations Environment Program), Inger Andersen, stated that the notion of adopting this resolution was “a breakthrough moment for environmental justice”, and further went on to say that it would “help shield individuals and communities from risks to their health and livelihoods”.


However, although it is safe to say that this recognition is a largely important one to both this generation and the coming generations, (and that it undoubtedly is a positive one), there is still much to be done in order to create a sustainable and unthreatened atmosphere on Earth. The reason for this being that while there was a slight dip in the CO2 emissions this past year - due to the COVID-19 pandemic - according to experts, the world may be heading towards a potentially catastrophic temperature rise by 3.2 degrees Celsius this century (37.76 degrees Fahrenheit).


Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly argued “Bold action is now required to ensure this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social and environmental po