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Human Rights and the Environment

There has been no internationally approved definition of the environment. Different organisations and international bodies have different definitions based on what aspects of the environment they wish to consider. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has a geographical approach to defining the environment. This definition however does not include the man-made environment. Other organizations are concerned with the natural, cultural and or socio-economic aspects of the environment. The environment hence encompasses all physical, social and socio-cultural elements that are constantly interacting.


Office of Legal Affairs - the United Nations Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

As time moves on forward the environment affects everything around us, from our daily routines to our physical health. Yet many are still unaware of the severe consequences it has on us. In 1972, the UN Stockholm declaration became the first international conference to address concerns about the environment. It was the first step to recognising the issues at hand.The first principle stated was the Right to protect the environment which stated that “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate condition of life, in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and wellbeing, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.” Years after this conference the right to a healthy environment was not recognized explicitly on any global agreement.


On the 8th of October 2021, the UN Rights Council finally recognized that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.Recognition of this right at a global level inevitably enhanced efforts put in place toward the achievement of set SDGs. David Boyd, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, believes this resolution is a catalyst for better action.


Human rights and the environment are intertwined, so much that they are interdependent in some cases. Some rights like food and health are directly affected by environmental conditions such as drought, flooding.On one hand protection of our basic human rights depend on the state of the environment, while on the other hand, protection of the environment will depend on the exercise of human rights such as freedom of expression and information.


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