Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

UN declares Access to Clean, Healthy Environment as Universal Human Right


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 21

Mains level : Read the attached story

Every person on the planet has the right to live in a clean, healthy environment, as declared United Nations (UN) in a historic resolution.

Access to Clean, Healthy Environment

  • The resolution recognizes the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right essential for the full enjoyment of all human rights and, among others.
  • It calls upon States and international organizations to adopt policies and scale up efforts to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.
  • The landmark development demonstrates that the member states can unite in the collective fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
  • The declaration sheds light on almost all the rights connected to the health of our environment.
  • The declaration adopted by over 160 UN member nations, including India, is not legally binding.

Why such move?

  • This right was not included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
  • So, this is a historic resolution that will change the very nature of international human rights law.
  • The resolution will help to reduce environmental injustices and protection gaps.
  • It can empower people, especially those in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous people.

Landmark resolution after 50 years

  • Some 50 years ago, the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm concluded with a resolution placing environmental issues at the global forefront.
  • Today, over 176 countries have adopted environmental framework laws on the basis of it.
  • From a foothold in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, these rights have been integrated into constitutions, national laws and regional agreements.
  • In October 2021, it was recognised by the UN Human Rights Council.

What were other such developments?

  • July 28, 2010, the UN general assembly recognised the right to water and sanitation through its resolution.
  • It stated that clean drinking water and sanitation “are essential to the realisation of all human rights”.
  • In response to this, governments across the world have changed their laws and regulations related to water and sanitation.

Issues over this declaration

  • The words’ ‘clean’, ‘healthy’ and ‘sustainable’ lack an internationally agreed definition.
  • The text fails to refer to the foundational principle of equity in international environmental law.
  • Nevertheless, this has given more power in the hands of environmental activists to question environmentally destructive actions and policies.

Back2Basics: Right to Clean Environment in India

  • The right to life has been used in a diversified manner in India.
  • It includes, inter alia, the right to survive as a species, quality of life, the right to live with dignity and the right to livelihood.
  • In India, this has been expressly recognised as a constitutional right under Article 21.
  • It states: ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedures established by law.’
  • The Supreme Court expanded this negative right in two ways.
  1. Firstly, any law affecting personal liberty should be reasonable, fair and just.
  2. Secondly, the Court recognized several unarticulated liberties that were implied by article 21.
  • It is by this second method that the Supreme Court interpreted the right to life and personal liberty to include the right to a clean environment.


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