With 161 votes in favour and 8 abstentions, the General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution today recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right and calling for greater global efforts to ensure that principle is upheld.
Affirming that promoting that right requires the full implementation of the multilateral environmental agreements, the 193-member body called upon States, international organizations, business enterprises and other relevant stakeholders to adopt policies, enhance international cooperation, strengthen capacity-building and continue to share good practices in order to scale up efforts to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.
The representative of Costa Rica, introducing the text, underscored that with the world facing an unprecedented triple environmental crisis — of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution — the universal recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment provides a powerful, effective response that could catalyse transformative changes in societies.
Prior to the text’s adoption, several delegates stressed that there is no common internationally agreed understanding on the content and scope for the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, with the Russian Federation’s representative stressing that States can only talk about a legally recognized right after such right is recognized exclusively within international treaties.
On that point, Pakistan’s representative said the resolution is a political text, not a legal affirmation by the Assembly. While his delegation voted in favour in the hope the text’s adoption would further galvanize efforts to address environmental degradation and its negative impact on the realization of basic human rights, he said the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities, should have been included in the resolution.
Moreover, Iran’s representative observed that references to unilateral coercive measures, which impede the enjoyment of human rights in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, are lacking in the text.
Following the action, delegations continued to voice regret that important elements were not included in the resolution. The speaker for the United Kingdom said it failed to acknowledge the role of human rights defenders working on environmental issues or the need for deeper discussion on this right.
Jamaica’s representative, noting references such as “unsustainable development” in the resolution, said that use of the term “unsustainable” in a way that is not universally agreed allows for subjective interpretation and undermines global efforts to coherently resolve sustainable development challenges.
Delegations also said that negotiations could have benefited from more time or debate, with the speaker for New Zealand pointing out that given the tight timeframe, her delegation did not have time to consult with the Maori on the scope and recognition of the new right.
Earlier in the meeting, the Assembly adopted a resolution declaring Central Asia a zone of peace, trust and cooperation. Introducing the text, Turkmenistan’s representative — also speaking for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — said the countries of the region have great potential for cooperation and development.
The speaker for Pakistan noted his country is committed to building connectivity and cooperation in trade, investment, transport, energy and other sectors with its Central Asian neighbours.
The representative of the United States, while noting the text creates a foundation of greater cooperation among Central Asian Governments, voiced disappointment that some delegations fought vigorously against the inclusion of language reaffirming the mutually reinforcing relationship between human rights and the rule of law in peacebuilding and sustaining peace.
Also speaking today were representatives of Brazil, Pakistan, Iran, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Syria, Canada, Japan, Belarus, Norway, India, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Israel, Egypt, Poland and China, as well as the European Union.
The representatives of Poland and Belarus also spoke in exercise of the right of reply.