4 March 2016: Virtually all of the proposed methods of implementing human rights norms related to the environment will also support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, reflects in a new document, titled ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.’
The Human Rights Council (HRC) requested the Special Rapporteur to study human rights obligations with respect to the environment and to identify good practices in the use of such obligations in its resolution 28/11. The HRC also asked the Special Rapporteur to identify obstacles to the full realization of such rights as well as obligations to promote their realization. In response, the Special Rapporteur held an expert seminar and a public consultation and produced an Implementation Report (A/HRC/31/53), which proposes methods for implementing human rights obligations with respect to the enjoyment of a healthy environment, emphasizing their complementary.
A human rights perspective on environmental protection promotes equality, freedom and human dignity and improves the effectiveness of policy making, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes in his report. Knox elaborates that more sustainable and robust policy outcomes can be generated when those individuals most affected by development and environmental policies participate in decision-making processes.
In the future, efforts to mainstream environmental and human rights norms in implementing and monitoring the SDGs will be critical, the report states. It further suggests that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) examine how to mainstream human rights into multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and environmental impact assessments, such as by including a reference to human rights in MEA text.
The report also provides examples of how UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and others advance environmental and human rights norms in their work and shares ways in which the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) addresses children’s rights in an environmental context, including their vulnerabilities to climate and environmental impacts. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also addresses the linkages between migration and environmental change, including climate change.
The report further considers: the potential to adopt a new international instrument on the connection between human rights and environmental protection; and greater use of the universal periodic review mechanism as an effective tool to examine the compliance of States with human rights obligations related to the environment and to promote better environmental policies at the national level, among other topics. Among its examples of international, regional and national legislation that addresses human rights and the environment, the report highlights the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), as a leading example.
Knox presented reports to the HRC on two aspects of his mandate, clarifying the human rights obligations relating to climate change, and on methods of implementing those obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, in Geneva, Switzerland, on 3 March. During the discussion, participants highlighted the obligations of States and companies on the environment and called on the Special Rapporteur to pay additional attention to multinational corporations’ environmental transgressions. Others suggested creating a forum within the HRC to exchange experiences on human rights and the environment.
[UNOG Press Release] [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Press Release] [UNECE Press Release] [Special Rapporteur Website] [A/HRC/31/53: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment]