On 28 July 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted by a vote of 161 to 0 with 8 abstentions a resolution on the recognition of a separate human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The universal recognition of a human right by the UN General Assembly, uniting all 193 member states, is of historical importance. The last right recognised by the UN General Assembly was the right to water and sanitation in 2010.
By adopting the resolution, the international community has reaffirmed that human rights and a clean, healthy and sustainable environment are interdependent and influence one other. Although the UN General Assembly’s resolution is not legally binding, it is expected to set positive developments in motion, such as greater commitment at political level to environmental issues, the stricter accountability of states, and coherent policy making in environmental and human rights matters.
Major commitment by Switzerland and its role as bridge-builder
Based on the mandate of the Federal Constitution to respect human rights and to preserve the natural foundations of life (Art. 54 of the Federal Constitution), Switzerland is calling for, together with a small group of states (Costa Rica, Morocco, the Maldives and Slovenia), a coherent policy in the UN on environmental and human rights issues and for more than ten years has regularly put forward resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council addressing this interdependency. This multilateral commitment is based on Switzerland’s conviction that global environmental challenges require solutions from the international community. On the initiative of these states, in 2021 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to recognise a separate human right to a healthy environment.
Thanks to the commitment of Switzerland and the other members of this group of states, broad cross-regional support for this matter has now also been achieved in the UN General Assembly. In its role as bridge-builder, Switzerland has made a contribution to bringing together existing blocs in favour of a multilateral solution to environmental matters.
A healthy environment is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of human rights
For both current and future generations, climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity are major challenges. They impair or impede the attainment of people’s human rights, such as the right to life, health, food, water or adequate housing. The link between environmental protection and human rights was first enshrined at UN level as early as 1972 with the Stockholm Declaration. Switzerland also signed this and continues to carry out this pledge today.
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