UN: Environmental hazards kill 8 million a year

UN expert urges global recognition of the human right to a healthy environment

NEW YORK – A UN human rights expert called on States to recognize the right to a healthy environment, in order to fight the scourges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution that kill over 8 million people each year.

In a report to the UN General Assembly in New York, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd, said the time had come for the United Nations to formally recognize the human right to a healthy environment.

“This would not only be consistent with the state of the law in most of the world, but would also provide important and tangible benefits,” he said.

Boyd said 155 States already have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to a healthy environment. In more than 100 countries, the right to a healthy environment enjoys constitutional status — the strongest form of legal protection available, and at least 130 States have ratified regional human rights treaties that explicitly include the right to a healthy environment — treaties covering Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and Europe.

“The global recognition of the right to a healthy environment would complement, reinforce and amplify the existing domestic and regional legal framework,” the UN expert said. “Recognition of the right by the United Nations would acknowledge that this right must be universally protected.”

Boyd said a human being’s life ends prematurely every four seconds due to exposure to pollution and other environmental hazards. “What could be more fundamental than the right to clean air, safe water and food, a safe and stable climate, thriving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems?”

“As the devastating impacts of pollution, climate change, and extinction accelerate, it becomes essential to use every tool available to address these planetary challenges. Recognizing that everyone has the right to live in a healthy and sustainable environment is a powerful approach, as we learned from human rights victories of the abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights movement,” he concluded.

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