At its 19th session on the 20th of March, the UN’s Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on human rights and the environment facilitating an independent expert on human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The resolution was adopted by consensus, with more than 80 States co-sponsoring. The expert is to be appointed for a period of three years.
The decision comes on the back of the related work done by the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes and perhaps signifies a reinvigoration of the focus on the links between human rights and the environment. The tasks of the Expert will be, inter alia, to study the human rights obligations, including non-discrimination obligations, relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, to identify, promote and exchange views on best practices relating to the use of human rights obligations and commitments to inform, support and strengthen environmental policymaking, especially in the area of environmental protection, and to submit a first report, including conclusions and recommendations, to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session and annually thereafter.
While the international environmental rights agenda has been somewhat dormant following the 1992 Rio Summit, regional developments in the area of procedural rights – most notably in the form of the 1998 UNECE Aarhus Convention – and domestic constitutional environmental rights developments have made some progress over the last two decades. Likewise the environmental agenda has gained currency in the setting of climate change where a number of UN and World Bank reports and resolutions have kept the issue in the forefront.
One interesting development in respect to the Council’s resolution will be what action (if any) states will take in June at the Rio+20 Summit in relation to environmental rights.
For more information download the resolution here.