City Bar Supports Formal Recognition by the United Nations of the Human Right to a Healthy Environment
The New York City Bar Association has issued a statement expressing its support for the work of the current and former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights and the environment that has laid the groundwork for and recommended that the United Nations formally recognize the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and encourages the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly to take actions towards formal recognition of this essential human right.
Specifically, the City Bar urges:
- the Human Rights Council and United Nations General Assembly to adopt, before the end of 2020, resolutions recognizing the human right to a healthy environment;
- the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations to work towards enabling the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution recognizing the human right to a healthy environment; and
- the American Bar Association and other state bar associations to (i) express their support for the recognition by the United Nations General Assembly of the human right to a healthy environment and (ii) urge their legislatures to consider Green amendments to states constitutions that would guarantee each person the right to clean air and water and a healthful environment.
“The recognition of this right is imperative in an era where the harrowing effects of human activities on the natural world are increasingly palpable as a result of climate change and air, water and land pollution,” the City Bar writes, citing statistics on the millions of premature deaths and forced displacements around the world due to pollution and climate-related disasters.
The City Bar’s statement reviews the historical development of the human right to a healthy environment, which, due to lack of awareness, “did not begin to take hold until well after the adoption of the International Bill of Rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Indeed, “Rachel Carson, the American marine biologist and writer who helped initiate the ecology movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring, has been credited as the first advocate for a human right to a healthy environment, urging the United States to adopt the right soon before she died of cancer in the early 1960s,” according to the statement.
In 1972, the first formal international recognition of links between human rights and a healthy environment originated from the Stockholm Declaration adopted at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. In 2012, the Human Rights Council appointed the first Independent Expert (and, in 2015, the first Special Rapporteur) under a mandate to examine human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a healthy environment. And in 2018, a Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly formally recommended that the UN recognize the human right to a healthy environment.
According to the City Bar’s statement, adoption of the resolution recognizing the human right to a healthy environment would have tangible benefits, including establishing a unified international foundation for the environmental rule of law; delivering a strong impetus for the national enactment of the human right to a healthy environment and further development of existing environmental frameworks; increasing public awareness and involvement in environmental issues; linking Business and Human Rights frameworks to environmental impacts; and articulating the importance of the right to a healthy environment for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The Special Rapporteur is gathering a coalition of supportive States with the goal of calling on the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly to pass formal resolutions recognizing the human right to a healthy environment in the fall of 2020.
The statement can be read here: https://bit.ly/2RuUk24
About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 25,000 members, is to equip and mobilize a diverse legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world. www.nycbar.org