On 8 October 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution recognising the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The resolution is the first of its kind. It is about “protecting people and planet” and “protecting the natural systems which are basic preconditions to the lives and livelihoods of all people wherever they live”, as noted by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It could be an important contribution in helping development actors to set global and national standards to protect people against environmental harm, to provide equal access to environmental benefits, and to ensure a common minimum standard of environmental quality for everyone. While the resolution marks an important step, it leaves several questions unanswered. What does the resolution entail from a planetary health perspective? How can the resolution be governed further? How can it be truly impactful?
First, while the UN High Commissioner has called on member states to “take bold action to give prompt and real effect”, the resolution is not legally binding; how will it be enforced and mandated remains an open question. It is important that the resolution be included in countries’ environmental legislation to fast-track legal processes and foster more ambitious environmental policies. Moreover, the resolution urges states to undertake actions on the presumption that these problems are confined within their national boundaries. A planetary health perspective recognises that environmental problems are increasingly transboundary. Typical examples are the pollution of lakes, rivers, and oceans, forest and forest fires causing haze pollution, acid rain caused by emissions of sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide, and the impacts of climate change. With these globalised and highly dynamic environmental problems, the role of global trade, multilateral agencies, and transnational cooperation gain more prominence. An example is the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.
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This publication first appeared on the DIE site.
Authors: Alexia Faus Onbargi, Saravanan V. Subramanian and Katharina Molitor (DIE).
The views are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ETTG.