The right to a healthy environment is a human right

The UN environment agency and the UN Human Rights Office have signed a new cooperation agreement to promote and protect environmental and human rights.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Rights Office have taken a major step towards protecting environmental and land rights as human rights by signing a new cooperation agreement. Its goal is to better protect environmental human rights defenders and their families, who frequently face violence such as killings, sexual violence and smear campaigns.

The partnership will also encourage leaders and governments to uphold the human right to a healthy environment by promoting human rights-based policies, particularly in terms of sustainable management of natural resources, development planning and action to combat climate change.

“A healthy environment is vital to fulfilling our aspiration to ensure people everywhere live a life of dignity,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement announcing the cooperation agreement. “We must curb the emerging trend of intimidation and criminalization of land and environmental defenders, and the use of anti-protest and anti-terrorism laws to criminalize the exercise of rights that should be constitutionally protected.”

The two UN agencies decided to sign this new cooperation agreement because, while more than 150 countries have recognized the human right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, national laws and jurisprudence or through regional agreements, far more work is needed to inform policy-makers, judicial institutions and the public on how they can take action to uphold this right.

“Our planet is being recklessly destroyed and we urgently need stronger global partnerships to take action to save it,” added UN High Commission for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. “We call on leaders and governments to recognize that climate change and environmental degradation severely undermine the human rights of their people, particularly those in vulnerable situations – including the generations of tomorrow.”

Image credit: Joseph King via Flickr

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