The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Cate Bonacini:

Historic Recognition of a New Human Right and Response to Climate Harm

In a long-awaited decision, the UN Human Rights Council proceeds to recognize the universal right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment and decides the creation of a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change


From the opening remarks of High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focusing on the right to a healthy environment to reports on the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss, and global food insecurity, the 48th session of the Human Rights Council ended recognizing that the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential for the fulfillment of other human rights. This recognition was coupled with the creation of a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change, signaling a new era in rights-based climate policy.

Sebastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Campaign Manager for the Human Rights and Climate Change portfolio commented on the importance of universally recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment:

"Today's historic decision is the culmination of over forty years of efforts to recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Even though the vast majority of the world recognizes this right, until this afternoon, universal recognition remained elusive. Now, thanks to the leadership of a core group of countries including Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland, the right is recognized at the United Nations.

"This new recognition will serve as a catalyst for institutions and other stakeholders to take steps that better respect, protect, and fulfill the right. It includes, but is not limited to the mobilizing resources and political will. Today's decision should serve as a wake-up call to all governments, demanding that they prioritize protecting environmental human rights defenders and those most vulnerable to climate harms. Now that the UN has finally taken this outdue step, we must all -- whether working for governments, businesses or civil society -- make it a priority to prevent any further violation of this right for present and future generations."

In response, Francesca Migrone, Attorney at CIEL commented on the significance of establishing a new Special Rapporteur:

"After over a decade of demands from civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations, the UN Human Rights Council has now established a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. While the path has been long and fraught with obstacles and uncertainties, we are thrilled to see that the resolution is supported by a substantial number of Member States, representing every region of the world. A dedicated Special Rapporteur will be the focal point for questions related to climate change and human rights, looking into issues in the context of human rights-based climate action and international cooperation that have not been given enough attention so far. The new expert would also help frontline communities' demands to be better reflected in relevant international fora and would provide critical advice to states vulnerable to climate change. This decision signals that the Council understands the need to respond to the fact that climate change is the single greatest threat to the enjoyment of human rights in the 21st century.

"Thanks to the advocacy of Small Islands States and the Climate Vulnerable Forum over the past two years, the Council will now be in a better position to address this crisis with the urgency required. We look forward to engaging with the new Special Rapporteur to support the demands of groups and communities on the frontlines of climate change in the coming years, in close cooperation with other Special Rapporteur and relevant institutions. We are confident that the new expert will promote policies contributing to more equitable, ambitious, and human-rights-based climate action."

Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has worked to strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society.