NYU, the URG Team

On 8 October 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its historic resolution 48/13 recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by a vote of 43-0-4.1 Although the fundamental link between environmental protection and the enjoyment of human rights has long been acknowledged, and the right to a healthy environment itself has already been widely recognised at national and regional levels, HRC resolution 48/13 was the first formal recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the global level.

Soon after, on 28 July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly followed suit and adopted resolution 76/300 by a resounding vote of 161-0-8. This was one of the most widely supported UNGA resolutions, with 95.3 per cent support from the international community, and provided further political weight to the recognition that everyone, everywhere has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The UN Secretary-General welcomed the resolution as a ‘landmark development’ and the Executive Director of the UNEP hailed it as a ‘victory for people and the  planet.’

Notwithstanding, some States have emphasised the legally non-binding nature of HRC and UNGA resolutions and expressed concern that the scope and legal content of the right have not been clearly defined, arguing that it has neither been established in customary nor conventional international law and must therefore be the object of intergovernmental negotiations before the right can have true meaning for rights-holders and duty-bearers.

This report examines this body of practice, namely the features and best practices associated with the global implementation of the right to a healthy environment. In doing so, it aims to  contextualise the recent recognition of R2HE, shedding light on how countries, courts, and civil societies can ensure that international R2HE materially improves the lives of individuals and communities around the world. In that spirit, it concludes with recommendations on how countries can strengthen the implementation of R2HE and, in the process, tackle the defining ecological challenges of the twenty-first century. The report is a collaborative effort between NYU School of Law’s Earth Rights Advocacy (ERA) and the Universal Rights Group (URG).

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