All human beings depend on the environment in which we live. A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation. Without a healthy environment, we are unable to fulfil our aspirations or even live at a level commensurate with minimum standards of human dignity. At the same time, protecting human rights helps to protect the environment. When people are able to learn about, and participate in, the decisions that affect them, they can help to ensure that those decisions respect their need for a sustainable environment.
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking. Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to serve as the Independent Expert (2012 – 2015) and as the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (2015 – 2018).
In March 2018, the Human Rights Council further extended the mandate and appointed Mr. David. R. Boyd as the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (as of 1 August 2018).
Human Rights Council Resolution 38/11 (2018):
(a) To continue to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment,in consultation with Governments, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Development Programme, and relevant multilateral environment agreements, human rights mechanisms, local authorities, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, including those representing indigenous peoples and other persons in vulnerable situations, the private sector and academic institutions;
(b) To continue to identify, promote and exchange views on good practices relating to human rights obligations and commitments that inform, support and strengthen environmental policymaking, especially in the area of environmental protection, and in that regard to disseminate and consider updating documents elaborated by the previous mandate holder, as appropriate;
(c) To promote and report on the realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, taking into account the reports and documents produced by the previous mandate holder, and to disseminate his or her findings by, inter alia, continuing to give particular emphasis to practical solutions with regard to their implementation;
(d) To work on identifying challenges and obstacles to the full realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and protection gaps thereto, including in the context of sustainable development;
(e) To continue to contribute to and participate in, where appropriate, intergovernmental conferences and meetings relevant to the mandate, including at the United Nations Environment Assembly;
(f) To develop a dialogue, liaise and collaborate with all relevant stakeholders with a view to enhancing public awareness of the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; (g) To conduct country visits and to respond promptly to invitations from States;
(h) To apply a gender perspective by, inter alia, considering the particular situation of women and girls and identifying gender-specific discrimination and vulnerabilities, and addressing good practices where women and girls act as agents of change in safeguarding and managing sustainably the environment;
(i) To work in close coordination, while avoiding unnecessary duplication, with other special procedures and subsidiary organs of the Human Rights Council, relevant United Nations bodies, agencies, funds and programmes, including the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Development Programme, the treaty bodies and international and regional organizations, and multilateral environmental agreements, taking into account the views of other stakeholders, including relevant regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and academic institutions;
(j) To submit an annual report, including conclusions and recommendations, to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly;