UN declares access to a clean environment a human right

The United Nations Human Rights Council declared that having a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on member states to act aggressively and promptly toward implementing this decision.

In a landmark move, the UN Human Rights Council formally recognized that access to a healthy environment is a fundamental human right.

Ambassadors from Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland drafted Resolution 48/13, which passed with 43 votes in favor. China, India, Japan, and Russia abstained.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, insisted:

“Bold action is now required to ensure this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social, and environmental policies that will protect people and nature.”

SDGs and ESGs

Medical News Today spoke about this resolution with Dr. Anita Chandra, Dr.P.H., vice president and director of RAND Social and Economic Well-Being and a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation.

During the interview, Dr. Chandra stated that the content of the resolution “was pretty consistent with where the world has been going, including the United States, on the [U.N.’s] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

MNT asked Dr. Chandra how the corporate sector is working towards a healthier environment. She commented:

“I think there have been some helpful attempts at private sector engagement and public-private partnerships on it […] Many companies are finding that they need to determine sustainable solutions, and that’s what governs a lot of companies through the ESG goals […] These are environmental, social and governance goals, and ESG goals tend to elevate environmental protections and sustainability. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but there is at least a move towards that.”

Profitable sustainability

Dr. Chandra pointed out that RAND worked with Costa Rica on their National Decarbonization Plan. She stated that RAND’s methods “were not only good for the environment but had a net positive outcome in terms of profits.”

She believed that the challenge for industries is how to align their ESG goals with the UN’s SDGs and Resolution 48/13. Fortunately, the senior researcher sees that frameworks are starting to connect these ideals.

Holding businesses accountable

MNT also discussed this UN resolution with Mustafa Ali, Ph.D., J.D., former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official and founder of the environmental consultancy Revitalization Strategies.

When asked how businesses will implement more equitable and sustainable processes, Dr. Ali answered:

“I think […] it starts with governments making a decision that this is a valuable set of actions and creating incentives for those who want to move in a positive direction and supporting that behavior.”

Dr. Ali also argued that shareholders and individuals could and should use their dollars to hold corporations accountable.

He called for governments to take “a stronger stance on those [companies] who refuse to evolve.”

Vulnerable populations bear brunt

This new resolution suggests that the most vulnerable populations worldwide are more severely affected by the triple planetary threats of climate change, pollution, and nature loss.

Dr. Ali suggested:

“It’s because of policies in the back from history and up to this moment. We know [about] racism, discrimination, bias — these have been built into policy, housing policy, transportation policy, environmental policy, public health or medical policy, financial policy. So, that is just the history, at least of the United States, of creating disproportionate impacts, disinvestments in communities that make them more vulnerable.”

Dr. Ali spoke of the 48217 zip code in Detroit, MI, where residents reportedly deal with disproportionately high occurrences of asthma, cognitive impairments, and cancer due to air pollution.

He also mentioned Louisiana’s Cancer Alley and West Virginia’s Canaan Valley among minoritizedTrusted Source and low income locations bearing the brunt of inequitable environmental threats.