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.

More about Swedwatch´s activities during Stockholm+50 

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.


Duty-bearers, rights-holder, obligations and rights

From a human rights perspective, individuals or social groups are rights-holders that can make legitimate claims, and States and non-state actors like businesses are duty-bearers that are responsible and can be held accountable for their acts or omissions, if they fail to fulfil and protect human rights. A focus on rights and obligations helps to identify who is entitled to make claims and who has a duty to take action.


The rights of the Right to a Healthy Environment




Swedwatch´s recommendations:

UN member states should recognise and adopt the right to a healthy environment at the General Assembly and thereby accelerate efforts to strengthen environmental gover­nance.

Business actors should fulfil their duty-of-care obligations by assessing, preventing, and mitigating environmental harm and human rights risks across value chains.

Business actors should fulfil their procedural obligations, including mea­ningful engagement with human rights and environmental defenders to assess and mitigate risks.

Business actors should ensure effective and timely remedy for business-affected communities in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the Framework Princip­les on Human Rights and the Environment.

Photo radiatu

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.




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