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High Level Expert Meeting on the future of Human Rights and Environment: Moving the Global Agenda Forward

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently organized a High-level Expert Meeting on the topic The New Future of Human Rights and Environment: Moving the Global Agenda Forward. The meeting took place at UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi from 30 November to 1 December 2009.

In a series of resolutions, the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council have drawn attention to the relationship between a safe and healthy environment and the enjoyment of human rights. Most recently, the Human Rights Council in its resolution 7/23 of March 2008 and resolution 10/4 of March 2009 focused specifically on human rights and climate change, noting that climate change-related effects have a range of direct and indirect implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights.

These resolutions have raised awareness of how fundamental the environment is as a prerequisite to the enjoyment of human rights. The time is ripe to build on the work of the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council and on UNEP’s and the international community’s achievements in the environmental field to deepen our understanding of the direct and indirect links between the protection of the environment and the enjoyment of human rights, as well as on obligations and responsibilities of States and other actors under human rights treaties and multilateral environmental agreements. For this to happen, guidance from forward-looking thinkers and assistance from the best scientific and legal minds in the field is needed.

The two day High-level Expert Meeting was attended by thinkers drawn broadly from different fields including academics, judges, other legal experts, representatives of international governmental organizations, public interest groups and policy makers. The Expert Meeting provided a forum to review recent developments concerning the relationship between human rights and environment, including the recent resolutions of the Human Rights Council on human rights and climate change, and to discuss ways and means to promote integrated strategies and policies for the protection of human rights and the environment.

There are three main dimensions of the interrelationship between human rights and environmental protection:

  • The environment as a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of human rights (implying that human rights obligations of States should include the duty to ensure the level of environmental protection necessary to allow the full exercise of protected rights);
  • Certain human rights, especially access to information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters, as essential to good environmental decision-making (implying that human rights must be implemented in order to ensure environmental protection); and
  • The right to a safe, healthy and ecologically-balanced environment as a human right in itself (this is a debated approach).

Recent developments which have served to underline the close linkages between human rights and environment include:

  • The findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) that have made explicit the contribution of ecosystem services to human well-being, which is broken down into a series of “constituents” of well being, which can be related to human rights; and
  • The new attention given to human rights in the context of climate change discussions notably the recent resolutions of the Human Rights Council on human rights and climate change (Resolutions 7/23 and 10/4).

The Meeting documents can be accessed below:

Other meeting documents

Further Resources