Sustainable Environment as a Human Right

Sustainable Environment as a Human Right

The 10th of December is Human Rights Day. This year marked a special anniversary: the universal declaration of human rights turned 70!

The declaration is a key document in order to have a legal base to persecute crimes against humanity, designed to help bring peace and equality to the world. While we still have some way to go to accomplish that, a new threat is already on the horizon. Climate change is threatening human rights in an unprecedented way. This has brought up the necessity to update the human rights declaration to include the right to a healthy enviroment.

Threats to environmental defenders

In the last years, we could see a rise in the murder of activists who protect land, water and nature. One of the most famous cases was the murder of the indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Cáceres in 2016. She was brutally assassinated in her home after years of being threatened. Those arrested for her murder are linked to large financial institutions. Still not all of them have been sentenced yet. This is not an isolated case. Around the world and especially Honduras corrupt governments and businesses threaten and murder activists defending their right for land and natural resources. 200 murders happened in the last year alone. While these are only the reported numbers, they don’t reflect the number of harassments, threats, unlawful detention and unreported murders.

A new framework

John Knox the last special rapporteur for the UN on human rights and the environment spend the last 5 years investigating crimes against environmental activists and reinforces the necessity to help protect earth defenders. Before finishing his mandate he presented his report and the “Framework principles on human rights and the environment” which he had drafted. These could pressurize governments to enact laws to protect instead of criminalizing environmental defenders. “If we can’t protect them, then how can we protect the environment we all depend on,” he says. Not all states have formally accepted the framework but it represents a big step towards legal protection of environmental defenders and offers a framework for national policies.

His successor, the Canadian sustainability expert, David R. Boyd took over his mandate in August and is pressing to include environmental rights in the Paris Agreement Rule book, currently discussed at the COP 24 in Katowice, as climate change already threatens human rights.

Ireland’s government brought to court

Globally more and more citizens mobilize towards bringing governments, institutions and businesses to court and to push for change. This is also happening in Ireland right now. Climate Case Ireland is a legal action to hold the Irish government accountable for contributing to climate change. In Ireland, it’s especially the agricultural sector that needs to become more climate-friendly. Agroecological and regenerative practices should be the norm instead of the heavily promoted industrial chemical system. Also, as we all experienced last winter, Ireland is not food secure. We’re importing most of our food, which makes us very vulnerable in the long run. While the Irish government should promote agroecological vegetable production, they instead push for increasing meat and dairy production. The insanity of this agenda is obvious and it’s time to hold the Irish government accountable for violating our human right to healthy food and a healthy environment.

You can support Climate Case Ireland here.


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