Dear friends and colleagues
As you have all heard, western Canada and the United States have been struck by a devastating heat wave and drought this summer. A small town in British Columbia called Lytton reached 50 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada (and hotter than it has ever been in Las Vegas, Nevada). The heat wave caused over 1,000 deaths in the region, an estimated one billion marine animals died, Lytton burned to the ground, we’ve gone 50 days without a drop of rain, and now wildfires are blazing across the Pacific Northwest. The climate emergency is wreaking havoc, and it is critical that all nations, but especially wealthy nations, begin to act with an appropriate sense of urgency.
For the Human Rights Council, now entering its tenth year of studying the relationship between human rights and the environment, the most important action it can take is recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. More than 50 UN human rights experts joined together on World Environment Day to issue a joint statement urging States to recognize and implement this vital right as soon as possible.
The core group of States supporting the human rights and environment mandate (Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland) held an excellent high-level event on legal aspects of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment in July and has a similar workshop scheduled for the end of August. Then the core group may introduce a resolution on this right at the September session of the Council. This would be a truly historic moment, and would serve as a catalyst for rights-based and ambitious action to address climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and emerging zoonotic diseases. As I have said repeatedly, echoing calls from civil society, UN agencies, children and youth, #TheTimeIsNow!
Reports and upcoming consultations
In October, I will present a report to the General Assembly on healthy and sustainable food. This will be the fifth in a series of reports clarifying the substantive elements of the right to a healthy environment, following clean air, a safe climate, a healthy biosphere and safe and sufficient water. This report coincides with the UN Food Systems Summit on September 23, for which I am serving as a Food Systems Champion, emphasizing the potentially transformative role of the right to a healthy environment and other human rights in catalyzing changes in the way food is produced, distributed and consumed.
I am working on the final report in this series, on non-toxic environments where people can live, work, study and play, with the support of my colleague Dr. Marcos Orellana, the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights. The call for inputs for this report is available here, with submissions accepted until 1 November 2021. In addition to written submissions, we would like to invite you to participate in one of the virtual consultations on the following dates:
September 14, 8 am Pacific Standard Time
September 14, 1 pm Pacific Standard Time —this session will be conducted in Spanish.
September 14, 9 pm Pacific Standard Time
September 16, 1 pm Pacific Standard Time
September 16, 4 pm Pacific Standard Time
Please send your name to email@example.com indicating which session you would like to attend. We will provide additional information prior to the event.
Friend of the Court
My predecessor, Prof. John Knox, my colleague Dr. Marcos Orellana (the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights) and I are submitting amicus briefs in lawsuits around the world which involve human rights, climate change, and air pollution. Our goal is to assist courts and other tribunals with our expert perspectives on international human rights law, international environmental law and comparative constitutional law related to the right to a healthy environment. We received a grant from the Open Society Foundations (through the University of British Columbia) to support the work on these cases, for which we are extremely grateful.
We are waiting for decisions from courts in Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, as well as from the UN Human Rights Committee. On May 25th 2021, John and I participated in an oral hearing before the Committee on the Rights of the Child to advocate for the admissibility of the case brought by Greta Thunberg and 15 other youths from across the world. Marcos and I are delighted to be participating in the first two climate change cases to reach the European Court of Human Rights. We filed an amicus brief in the Portuguese youth’s case against 33 European nations, and we were granted permission, along with our colleagues Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng (Special Rapporteur on the right to health) and Dr. Claudia Mahler (Independent Expert on the rights of older persons) to file a brief in the Swiss Senior Women’s climate case against Switzerland. Additional information available on request, and updates will be provided in the next newsletter.
We continue to invite communications that allege violations of human rights related to environmental damage, degradation, hazards, or the fundamental rights of environmental human rights defenders. We do our best to confirm the facts, identify the relevant principles and obligations of international human rights law, and ask States, and in some cases businesses, to respond to the allegations. Often a group of special procedure mandate-holders will coordinate a joint communication. In some cases, pressure from the UN can result in positive changes, protecting both human rights and the environment. Additional information regarding submitting information is available on the mandate’s website.
Recent communications that the environment mandate has joined or led include:
Australia (AUS 5/2020), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH 2/2021), Brazil (BRA 6/2021 and BRA 3/2021), Chile (CHL 1/2021), China (CHN 2/2021), India (IND 2/2021), Indonesia (IDN 3/2021), Lao People's Democratic Republic (LAO 3/2021), Sweden (SWE 2/2021), Thailand (THA 1/2021), and United States (USA 33/2020).
We also publicly addressed the following issues in recent months through press releases, often issued in collaboration with colleagues:
Thailand: UN experts warn against heritage status for Kaeng Krachan national park
Chile: Nearly 40 years on, still no remedy for victims of Swedish toxic waste – UN experts
Pandemic recovery: Digital rights key to inclusive and resilient world
Time for UN to formally recognise right to clean, healthy environment – experts https://www.ohchr.org/FR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27138&LangID=E
Joint Statement by UN human rights experts for World Environment Day
Brazil: UN experts deplore attacks by illegal miners on indigenous peoples; alarmed by mercury levels https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27134&LangID=E
Cambodia: UN expert condemns conviction of three environmental rights defenders, urges their release https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27070&LangID=E
Japan: UN experts say deeply disappointed by decision to discharge Fukushima water https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27000&LangID=E
Because of the ongoing travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, we continue to provide keynotes and serve as panelist in many online meetings, panels, and events. Highlights include:
- “Understanding and identifying good practices in support of environmental human rights defenders and their communities”, Universal Rights Group, 3 May 2021
- European Union roundtable on human rights and the environment: the impact of water scarcity on human rights, 5 May
- “The Right to a Healthy Environment in Ireland”, Friends of Irish Environment, 5 May
- Keynote for workshop “Climate Change Litigation and Human Rights” Italy, 6-7 May
- “Good practices in implementing the right to a healthy environment from a child rights-based approach”, Video Presentation, Global Campus of Human Rights, Yerevan State University, 10 May
- “Business and the right to a healthy environment”, Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative, B team and Business for Nature webinar, 27 May
- Conversation with Paz Peña, “A fireside chat about the impacts of technology on the environment”, RightsCon 2021, 3 June
- Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, Launch, 3 June
- World Commission on Environmental Law, Biodiversity and the Law, 4 June
- Joint Expert Group Meeting on Human Rights and the Environment, Association of South East Asian Nations Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, 7 June
- Closing remarks, Global Institute for Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 10 June
- Keynote, Bolivia civil society webinar on the role of the UN in addressing human rights and the environment, Documentation and Information Center Bolivia, 15 June
- Panelist, Latin American civil society workshop on Climate Injustice: Loss and damages in Latin America, La Ruta del Clima, 15 June
- “Child rights and the environment,” Nova Law School, Portugal, 16 June
- Special guest, UNEP Law Division retreat, 17 June
- Invited expert, European Union strategy session on human rights and the environment, Lisbon, 17 June
- Keynote, “Businesses’ new responsibility: respecting a child’s right to a clean and healthy environment”, United Kingdom Clean Air Day, 17 June
- UNEP/Global Network on Human Rights and the Environment, Summer/Winter school, 22 June
- Panelist, Environmental Liability and Biodiversity, World Commission on Environmental Law/IUCN, 25 June
- Invited expert, “Environmental degradation, climate crisis and business and human rights,” Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, webinar, 30 June
- Panelist, Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals, Columbia University, 2 July
- Keynote, “Global Dialogue and High-level Segment on the Role of Food and Agriculture in the Global Biodiversity Framework, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 6 July
- Panelist, The Legal Implications of the Right to a Healthy Environment, Human Rights Council high-level side event, 7 July
- Panelist, “Climate Litigation and Environmental Defenders,” Climate Change Summit, British Institute for International and Comparative Law, 7 July
- Panelist, “The Climate Crisis is a Human Rights Crisis,” with Vanessa Nakate, Mary Robinson and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Our Future in the Balance, Climate Change Summit, BIICL, 8 July
- Keynote, “Latin America in the Vanguard for the Right to a Healthy Environment”, World Commission on Environmental Law, Inter-American Region Annual Meeting, 9 July
- Panelist, Human Rights and Climate Change, Human Rights Council side event, 13 July
- Speaker, Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative, Phoenix consultation for children and youth from North America, Opening and closing plenary sessions, 15-18 July
- Panelist, The Global Water Crisis and the Importance of International Cooperation, Human Rights Council side event, 16 July
- Opening speaker, Universal Rights Group, Launch of new support materials for EHRDs (environmental human rights defenders), 29 July
Thanks to all of the organizations and individuals who work so hard to organize these events, contributing to the key objective of educating, inspiring, and empowering people about human rights and the environment.
Publications of Interest
Co-authored with Stephanie Keene, Human Rights-Based Approaches to Conserving Biodiversity: Equitable, Effective and Imperative, first in a new Policy Brief series, with an Executive Summary
The Human Right to a Healthy Environment: Protecting Life on Earth, June 2021, https://www.pathway2022declaration.org/article/the-human-right-to-a-healthy-environment-protecting-life-on-earth/
The Heinrich Boll Foundation kindly agreed to publish a Spanish version of my book The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution that Could Save the World. The book was generously translated by Santiago Vallejo Galárraga. It can be downloaded for free here.
El Fundacion Heinrich Boll ha publicado un version español de mi libro Los Derechos de la Naturaleza: Una revolucion legal que puede salvar el mundo. El libro fue traduzco por Santiago Vallejo Galárraga y es disponible gratis aqui. Muchas gracias Santiago y Florian!
Excellent report: Strengthening Equity in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework by
Johannah Bernstein, V. Heinz, R. Schouwink, M. Meunier, E. Holland and D. Roe. IIED.
Check out our Youtube channel!
Message from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment on Biodiversity Day 2021
We are looking forward to a busy fall ahead with the World Conservation Congress in Marseilles (September), the Human Rights Council (September/October), the General Assembly (October), ongoing negotiations related to the 15th Biodiversity COP (postponed until 2022 in Kunming, China), and the 26th Climate COP (in November in Glasgow, UK). If the pandemic permits, we will try to squeeze in two country visits too.
On August 1, 2021, I started my second term as Special Rapporteur—the first three years flew past! We welcome your ideas, suggestions, and feedback on the mandate, especially regarding priorities and potential activities for the next three years! Together we can make a difference!
Please take care, stay healthy, and keep up your great work on behalf of this beautiful planet and its amazing people.