Amnesty International joins more than 850 civil society organizations, indigenous peoples’ groups, social movements and local communities in calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to recognize the universal human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
The open letter comes ahead of the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva from September 14 to October 6. It argues that people must be protected from the deadly impacts of environmental degradation and climate change. The joint letter was sent to the Council ahead of the current session but remains open for signatures from organizations and groups even after the session.
The letter states, “In view of the global environmental crisis that currently violates and jeopardizes the human rights of billions of people on our planet, global recognition of this right is a matter of utmost urgency. To protect people around the world from future shocks, and build greater resilience to catastrophes like this pandemic, and to recognize, respect, protect and fulfil the human right of all to enjoy a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”
The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is already covered in constitutions and laws in a substantial majority of countries around the world, as well as regional systems. There is a growing legal system for implementing and applying the right, too.
Now advocates for human rights, Indigenous peoples, climate action and social justice are urging the UN Human Rights Council to formalize this recognition and make it universal. In doing so, the Human Rights Council would prompt countries to strengthen policies and legislation to take better care of nature and biodiversity, the letter says. This would lead to cleaner air, greater access to safe drinking water and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It would also provide environmental justice for communities that are exposed to degraded and dangerous environments, such as toxic air or disease.
Deforestation and environmental degradation increase humans’ exposure to zoonotic viruses, like COVID-19, and vector-borne diseases, like malaria and Dengue fever. Scientists warn that the risk of spreading diseases will grow as natural ecosystems continue to break down. New research also suggests that the effects of air pollution on lungs, hearts and general health makes people more susceptible to the worst impacts of COVID-19.