United Nations General Assembly recognises standalone right to a healthy environment: human rights experts call on Australia to act at home

July 29, 2022

In a significant international development the United Nations General Assembly has today adopted a resolution recognising the right to a healthy environment as an essential human right by 161 votes in favour, no votes against and 8 abstentions.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) President Kerry Weste said, “ALHR commends Australia for supporting the international affirmation of a standalone human right to a healthy environment at the United Nations General Assembly. This is an historic victory for the health of all people and our planet.” 

“It represents a compelling global consensus that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of almost every human right protected within the core UN Human Rights Treaties. Environmental protection is now considered as an essential part of human rights protection.”

The resolution draws on the Human Rights Council resolution 48/13, which recognised this right in October 2021 and was accompanied by the appointment of a new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, Australia’s Dr. Ian Fry. The push has been led by the governments of Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland, also known as the “Core Group”, and an international alliance of civil society and legal experts of which ALHR is a member organisation.

Mrs Weste continued, “While UNGA resolutions are not legally binding instruments, this resolution is a powerful tool that will work to shape and strengthen new international norms and trigger acceleration for environmental action that safeguards human rights. This resolution has the potential to provide a foundation for a comprehensive international instrument on the right to a healthy environment and other environmental rights.

“Although the Australian Government has not yet recognised the right to a healthy environment domestically, 156 out of 193 UN member states have already given this right legal recognition in either constitutions, legislation or regional treaties.”

“These developments should serve as a catalyst for action in Australia. Our nation’s climate and environmental crisis must be approached from within a human rights framework,” Mrs Weste said, “Our laws should recognise that a healthy environment is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of all Australian’s fundamental human rights. This is the only way that we can ensure those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are not left behind.”

“It’s time for Australia to recognise in law that policy and legislation are enhanced when human rights are at the centre of government decision-making.”

For all media inquiries, contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager, on 0431 980 365.