The right to a healthy environment: What now for business?
30 May 2022
After years of calls from civil society, the UN Human Rights Council in October 2021 recognised that the right to a healthy environment is a human right. Ahead of environmental conference Stockholm+50, Swedwatch presents an analysis on the resolution’s implications for business actors.
While the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has not yet adopted the right, the council’s near-unanimous recognition of the Resolution on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment is a clear signal of the global interest in strengthening legal obligations of duty bearers, including states and businesses, to prevent and mitigate environmental harm.
Universally recognised by UN member states, the right provides an overarching, rights-based framework for people at risk of, for example, natural resource degradation from land clearances to claim their right and to hold states and businesses to account for environmental harm. For business actors this entails an increased responsibility to fulfil their procedural obligations, such as providing public access to information about environmental matters and enabling the participation of local communities affected by business operations.
“The Resolution demonstrates the strong relation between the environment and human rights. If a company cause environmental harm, it will inevitably also have an impact on humans. In other words, companies’ obligation to respect human rights has become even more explicit, which is welcomed, says Yayoi Lagerqvist, programme officer at Swedwatch and lead author of the policy paper Safeguarding the Right to a Healthy Environment – the Roles of States and Business Actors.
The universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment will further oblige duty bearers to protect and respect the rights to life, liberty, and security of human rights defenders working on environmental matters.
“Business actors’ obligations are particularly important in the face of escalating threats and violent attacks against individuals and groups defending the environment and human rights”, says environmental rights defender Radiatu H.S. Kahnplaye from Swedwatch’s Liberian project partner Green Advocates International.
Radiatu H.S. Kahnplaye will be part of the panel of a side event moderated by Swedwatch during the Stockholm+50 where the new resolution will be discussed.
The rights of the Right to a Healthy Environment
Radiatu H.S. Kahnplaye will be discussing the right to a healthy environment with other panelists, including the UN Special Rapporteur for Environment and Human Rights, at a Stockholm+50 side event moderated by Swedwatch. Radiatu is a Liberian environmental rights defender working on issues around business, human rights, and environment, and women’s rights. She is the Head of Administration and Finance at Green Advocates International and a Policy Advisor for the Natural Resources Women Platform in Liberia.