The UN General Assembly has recognized the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right in its own right. On Thursday in New York, 161 states voted for a corresponding resolution with eight abstentions.
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The resolution does not have a legally binding character; nevertheless, representatives of the international community spoke of a “historic” step and an appeal to governments, international organizations and the economy. Most recently, in 2010, the General Assembly recognized the right to water and sanitation as a human right.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the resolution a “milestone”. It shows that the international community can come together to fight the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
“The resolution will help reduce ecological injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those in vulnerable situations such as environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples,” Guterres said.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in Geneva that simply affirming the right to a healthy environment is not enough. “The General Assembly resolution is very clear: States must implement their international obligations and increase their efforts to do so.”
The decision reflects “that all rights are linked to the health of the environment,” Bachelet said. Everyone has “a right to eat, breathe and drink without poisoning their body” and a right to live without the threats of ecosystem collapse and climate catastrophe.