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Clean, healthy and sustainable environment, a universal right:

GS Paper 3

Topics Covered: Conservation related issues.



The United Nations Human Rights Council has unanimously voted for recognising a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal right in Geneva, Switzerland.



If recognised by all, the right would the first of its kind in more than 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.


Need for recognition:

The resolution emphasises “the rights to life, liberty and security of human rights defenders working in environmental matters, referred to as environmental human rights defenders.”

  • Environmental defenders across the globe are subject to constant physical attacks, detentions, arrests, legal action and smear campaigns.
  • Some 200 environmental defenders have been murdered in 2020 alone.



Over 13,000 civil society organisations and indigenous peoples’ groups, more than 90,000 children worldwide, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and private sector stakeholders had campaigned relentlessly for the right.


Challenges ahead:

A human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment has not been agreed in any human rights treaty and it is yet to emerge as a customary right.

  • Recognising rights without due consideration and a common understanding at an international level of what they comprise creates ambiguity.
  • Individuals cannot know what they can legitimately claim from the State, and the State has no clear understanding of the protection it is obliged to afford to the individual.
  • Besides, human rights resolutions are not legally binding instruments, and as such the recognition of the right in this resolution does not bind States to its terms.


Expected outcomes of this recognition:

  1. Stronger environmental laws and policies.
  2. Improved implementation and enforcement.
  3. Greater public participation in environmental decision-making.
  4. Reduced environmental injustices.
  5. A level playing field with social and economic rights.
  6. And better environmental performance.


Insta Curious:

Did you know that the right to a clean environment was rooted in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration? Reference: read this.



Prelims Link:

  1. About UNHRC.
  2. About Universal Human Rights.
  3. Latest addition to the list.

Mains Link:

Discuss the need for recognition of this right.

Sources: down to earth.