[Events > Human Rights and Environment > Consultation Constitutional Rights ]

Consultation on Constitutional Rights to a Healthy Environment

Convened by the United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Legal Resource Centre (LRC)

23 - 24 January 2014

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa 

The consultation gathered approximately 40 participants from a wide range of actors and backgrounds, including governments, civil society organizations, and international organizations. This is part of, a series of regional consultations which have already taken place(Panama, 2013), with a special focus on the region of Africa.

The consultation informed on the work of the Independent Expert in studying human rights obligations and good practices in their use. Good practices as well as challenges and lessons learned identified during the consultation were compiled as part of the joint UNEP/OHCHR/Independent Expert good practice project. The consultation also provided an opportunity for the human rights and the environment communities to meet and exchange experiences, which in turn would lead to strengthened capacities to further promote synergies between human right and the environment.

The Independent Expert on human rights and the environment is mandated by the Human Rights Council (Resolution 19/10) to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and to identify and promote best practices on the use of human rights obligations and commitments to inform, support and strengthen environmental policy making.

The consultation took place in English and French with simultaneous interpretation. 

The objectives of this consultation were to:

i) Identify environmental human rights obligations relevant to rights to a healthy environment;

ii) Identify relevant policies and good practices at international, regional and national levels to help inform the clarification of the topics of the consultation and to promote the replication of such practices;

iii) Offer a platform of dialogue between participants, including facilitating the exchange of experiences, knowledge, and lessons learned; and

iv) Increase awareness of a human rights based approach to environmental policy development and protection.

Constitutional rights to a healthy environment

Although no global international agreement has explicitly recognized a right to healthy environment, such a right is now recognized in many national constitutions and regional instruments, with over 90 national constitutions recognizing some form of environmental rights since the mid-1970s.  Many subnational governments also recognize rights to a healthy environment in the absence of their lack of recognition through a national constitution.  About two thirds of the constitutional rights refer to health; alternative formulations include rights to a clean, safe, favourable or wholesome environment. Some States have included more detailed rights, such as rights to receive information and to participate in decision-making about environmental matters.

South Africa, for example, has a relatively detailed formulation with negative and positive obligations.  Section 24 of the South African Constitution states:

Everyone has the right to; ­

a. an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and

b. have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that;

 i). prevent pollution and ecological degradation; 

ii). promote conservation; and 

iii). secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

The Meeting documents can be accessed below:

Further Resources