What are environmental rights?

Human rights are intertwined with the environment; environmental harm interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, and the exercise of human rights helps to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. 

Environmental rights are enshrined in over 100 constitutions yet 207 people were murdered in 2017 protecting these rights, while many more are harassed, intimidated and forced from their lands. Around 40 - 50 percent of the 197 environmental defenders killed in 2016 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. 

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