On Friday 8 October 2021, member states of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (Council) moved to adopt two historic resolutions. With the first of these (Council resolution 48/13), presented by Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland (the core group on human rights and the environment), the Council recognised a new universal human right: the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (R2E). The adopted text furthermore invited the General Assembly (GA) to join the Council in recognising this new international human right. That subsequently occurred in the summer of 2022 meaning the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment became only the second new right, and the first stand-alone right, to be fully recognised by the UN since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Right in 1948.
This report seeks to tell the story of that journey. It represents an ‘eyewitness account.’ The author was a diplomat at the UN Office in Geneva from 2006 to 2012, and from 2013 has led the Universal Rights Group think tank in Geneva. Through that time, he has been intimately involved with many of the events recounted in this paper. This story is therefore a personal one – and not only for the author, but also for many other individuals, diplomats, civil society representatives and others, who have each made an invaluable contribution to this achievement. This report is dedicated to them.
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