What are environmental rights?

Environmental rights are enshrined in over 100 constitutions yet on average almost four people a week are killed defending those rights, while many more are harassed, intimidated and forced from their lands. Around 40 - 50 percent of the 197 environmental defenders killed in 2017 came from indigenous and local communities. Women environmental defenders are especially vulnerable.

Who are environmental defenders?

Substantive Rights

Substantive rights include civil and political rights, such as the rights to life and liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of religion; and cultural and social rights such as rights to health, water, food, and culture. Both human rights law and environmental law recognize collective rights affected by environmental degradation, such as the rights of indigenous peoples.

Procedural Rights

Procedural rights are a key point of intersection between environmental and human rights law. Rights to access to information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice are found in both environmental and human rights instruments and have been interpreted under both regimes to provide broad protections for environmental interests. The protection and promotion of procedural rights has been, and continues to be, an important tool for the protection of the natural environment.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) declares that “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.”

UN Environment seeks to highlight the importance of the human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, sustainable and healthy environment. 

Related information

Environmental Rights Initiative

The Environmental Rights Initiative represents the next phase of UN Environment’s work on human rights and the environment. It builds on the outcomes of its past projects and as well as key UN Environment Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions. 

The Environmental Rights Initiative will bring environmental protection nearer to the people by assisting state and non-state actors to Promote, Protect and Respect Environmental Rights.

To promote a Rights-based Approach through the Environmental Rights Initiative we will: