UN expert publishes User Guide on right to healthy and sustainable environment


GENEVA (22 April 2024) – United Nations resolutions that recognise the right to a clean and healthy environment must translate into concrete policies and projects, said David R. Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment. On the occasion of Earth Day, he issued the following statement, announcing the publication of a User Guide to help implement such policies:

“Today is Earth Day. The day has been celebrated for more than 50 years and is one of the biggest in terms of civic engagement. After years of celebration, this important day resonates even more deeply now that the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment has been recognised at the international level through UN resolutions. Earth day is also an international reminder of the urgent need for action to tackle the triple planetary environmental crisis. This is why, we have chosen this specific day to publish a User Guide on the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The UN resolutions on the right to a healthy environment provided a much-need jolt of hope to a world struggling to cope with a devastating pandemic and a climate emergency. As soon as the resolutions were adopted, people began to ask: What next? How can we turn these inspiring words into tangible, concrete actions that will improve peoples’ lives and protect this uniquely beautiful and biodiverse planet?

The Guide seeks to answer these questions by looking into how the right can be used to prevent unsustainable and unjust laws, policies, projects and plans proposed by governments and businesses, and how it can be used to advance the transformative and systemic changes urgently needed to achieve a just and sustainable future.

The User Guide aims to provide useful and inspiring advice to civil society, social movements and communities on how to accelerate implementation of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

All people must have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, healthy food to eat, a safe climate for themselves and their children and flourishing biodiversity for present and future generations. Transforming today’s economic systems based on exploiting people and nature, is the biggest challenge facing humanity. But I believe that by working together we can achieve the just and sustainable future that so many people so deeply desire. This User Guide can be seen as a small step on that journey.

It is obvious that we have a long distance to travel and many mountains to climb before everyone, everywhere, fully enjoys their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. But as I have said to countless amazing activists and environmental human rights defenders across the world I have met along this journey: We are strongest when we use our voices together in global harmony.”

*David R. Boyd (Canada) was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment on 1 August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. @SREnvironment

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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