Rio de Janeiro, 19 June 2012 - A new approach that integrates human rights and environmental protection in law is needed to address the impact of environmental degradation on the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations, a joint report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Environment Programme said.
The report, launched today within the framework of Rio+20, said that such an approach would encourage sustainable development and a greener economy that recognizes that healthy ecosystems are a precondition for poverty reduction and an opportunity for economic growth.
Creating this link would deliver benefits to the international community in addressing food, energy and water security, and achieving sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the report argued.
"This report addresses how human rights and the environment can play an integral, indivisible role in achieving sustainable development and equality of access to basic needs such as freshwater food and employment while demonstrating how environmental and human rights policies affect each other and can support each other in common cause," UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"Both the two themes for Rio+20 - the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development - go to the heart of the current international debate on human rights and the environment," he added. "Rio+20 is an opportunity to elevate environmental sustainability from the margins into the center of fundamental human values and human rights-not only for this generation but for those generations to come."
The enjoyment of fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, health, water and food, is inextricably linked to environmental conditions, the report said.
For example, it pointed out that a fifth of the disease burden in developing countries can be linked to environmental risk factors. A direct causality has been established between malaria and deteriorating ecosystems, where in particular the disease flares up in ecological systems altered by irrigation projects, dams, construction sites, standing water and poorly drained areas.
The same link has been observed between ecological damage and other vector-borne diseases across a range of developing countries. The burden of these diseases falls especially hard on the poor, who often lack the resources to seek medical treatment.
"Efforts to encourage sustainable development must recognize the relationship between human rights and the environment and ensure their mutual benefits are realized," said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Without integrating human rights and environmental protection, sustainable development and the green economy will not succeed."
According to the report, this rights-based approach offers advantages for dealing with environmental protection, and may serve to:
- Bring greater clarity about the underlying impacts of various economic or other activities on human rights and the environment, and the impact of human rights on environmental protection, thus allowing for better policies and projects
- Improve outcomes by facilitating positive synergies, and generally improve the governance of natural resources
- Increase the legitimacy of activities, programmes and policies by integrating social concerns with environmental goals
- Be an effective instrument to ensure the accountability of governments, the private sector and environmental or human rights organizations with regard to the impact of their activities on the environment and human rights
- Provide stronger cross-sectoral links, which can further efforts toward sustainable development, by providing a framework to integrate social development, economic development, and environmental protection
- Demonstrate the positive contribution of conserving a safe and healthy environment to human rights and increase awareness of the negative impact on human rights of failing to protect critical natural resources and biodiversity
- Help further universal and local values and norms favouring conservation and social justice.
Obstacles in the path include some governments and actors not being engaged in long-term conservation efforts or the realization of human rights; conflicts or competition between rights, either across groups, or within a single group; and a lack of the substantial resources of time, expertise, information, and funding required for implementation.
Despite the challenges, the report offers recommendations that would bring deeper integration of the two crucial aspects of sustainability, and help ensure a faster transition to a green economy. These recommendations include:
- As an important step toward developing and implementing an integrated approach, each State should develop and adopt policies, laws and regulations that prevent negative impacts on human rights or the environment.
- Policies should be coherent, and demand collaboration between various ministries at the national level, and cohesion between the organizations and institutions dealing with sustainable development at the international level
- Such measures, including planning or land-use laws and environmental impact assessment or risk-assessment procedures, should identify and commit to integrating human rights considerations in the design, prior approval and implementation of all projects, programmes, and activities, whether undertaken by State or non-state actors.
- In addition to complying with international and local laws, private sector actors could design their own codes of conduct or construct a similar publicly available policy commitment to human rights and environmental norms
- Sustainability should be incorporated into an accounting system that measures the currently unaccounted-for economic losses that are experienced by using renewable and non-renewable resources in the environment.
The full report can be downloaded here: http://www.unep.org/environmentalgovernance/Portals/8/JointReportOHCHRandUNEPonHumanRightsandtheEnvironment.pdf
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