Make transformative changes to protect environment or endure incalculable suffering – UN rights expert
GENEVA (4 June 2020) – The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, says transformative actions are urgently required to protect the environment and human rights, and address the drivers of climate disruption, biodiversity loss, toxic pollution and zoonotic diseases. He made the following statement ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June:
“The global COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the direct and severe impacts of environmental degradation on the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food, water and culture. At least 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19 are jumping from wildlife into humans.
We need to address the root causes of these inter-related environmental disasters and seize this opportunity to achieve a just and sustainable future. As we shift into the recovery phase, States should implement a human rights-based approach to new and amended laws and policies as well as investments. Treating the symptoms of the crisis – with closed borders, lockdowns and hopefully a vaccine soon – is necessary, but a preventive approach would save millions of lives and trillions of dollars.
The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is legally recognised by 156 States and should be recognized globally by the United Nations as soon as possible. If respected, protected and fulfilled, this right could prove to be one of the most important human rights of the 21st century.
Recovery plans built on the concept of fulfilling human rights, including the right to a healthy environment, entail concrete actions and policies that aim towards achieving a stable climate, access to safe drinking water, clean air, healthy and sustainable agriculture, reduced exposure to toxic substances, and healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. Ending deforestation, tightly regulating wildlife trade, and closely monitoring hotspots where people, wildlife and domestic animals mix will help prevent future pandemics.
Putting the right to a healthy environment at the heart of the required transformations would help address inequality and ensure protection for all members of society, with a particular emphasis on people in vulnerable situations and who suffer the most during these threats, such as women, children, persons living in poverty, indigenous peoples and traditional communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, minorities and displaced persons.
States should take advantage of this once in a lifetime chance to transform today’s unjust and unsustainable societies and achieve a better world for everyone. This can be achieved through unprecedented levels of investment in a just transition to a circular, waste-free and low-carbon economy; creating millions of jobs in ecosystem restoration; building health, water and sanitation infrastructure; creating strong and resilient social protection programs; and improving access to education and economic opportunities for girls and women.
The trillions of dollars being invested in post-pandemic economic recovery could turbocharge efforts to fulfil the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, which if met would constitute one of the greatest achievements in human history.”
(*) World Environment Day is the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment celebrated since 1974. It is organised around a theme that addresses a particularly pressing environmental concern. The theme for 2020 is biodiversity and it is hosted by Colombia. See, https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/
David R. Boyd (Canada) was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment for a three-year term commencing 1 August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
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