The topic of environmental protection is becoming more and more important. As a result of various events such as the “FridaysForFuture movements” or the current fire in the Amazon rainforest, environmental protection gets more attention.
A clean and healthy environment is fundamental to human life. Environmental degradation is often associated with the violation of human rights. For example, deforestation often systematically undermines the rights of local populations. Moreover, environmental activists are often threatened because their work often runs counter to economic interests. Protection of the environment therefore goes hand in hand with respect for human rights.
Human rights claims to the protection of the environment
Not a single binding UN human rights treaty provides for a specific right to a clean environment. But in the interpretation of existing human rights there are protective contents which contain certain demands on the environmental conditions.
Although no specific right to a clean environment is guaranteed at universal level, there have been some efforts to achieve this. An important role played UN Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972. The Stockholm Declaration stated that the environment is essential for the well-being and exercise of important human rights. The 1992 Declaration adopted in Rio de Janeiro also represents a significant development in the area of human rights guarantees for the environment. Principle 1 recognizes «the right to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature».
Further efforts at the UN level then focused on developing intergovernmental commitments in the field of environmental protection. With increasing awareness of the consequences of environmental damage, however, international interest in a better understanding of a specific right to a healthy environment has rekindled.
Framework principles on human rights and the environment
2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Professor John H. Knox, presented the final report of his mandate to the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This report identifies 16 framework principles on human rights and the environment, addresses the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and looks ahead to the next steps in the evolving relationship between human rights and the environment.
The framework principles “set out basic obligations of States under human rights law as they relate to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” Each framework principle has a commentary that elaborates on it and further clarifies its meaning. The framework principles and commentary do not create new obligations. Rather, they reflect the application of existing human rights obligations in the environmental context.
Ecological human rights
A new human right in relation to our environment would be necessary to protect existing human rights. There are already approaches in this direction and a clean environment is becoming more important to the people. Slowly, there is an awareness of the need to protect the environment so that our descendants can live an adequate life.