The campaign to support the recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the United Nations General Assembly

Since the beginning of 2022, a coalition of NGOs has come together to  work on a campaign to support the recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). 

Thanks to the leadership of Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland (the “Core group”), in 2021 the Human Rights Council (HRC) recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (Resolution 48/13, 8 October 2021), and invited the UNGA to consider the matter. 

On April 12th, 2022, the Core group issued a joint statement announcing the adoption of a UNGA resolution and reaffirming that the recognition of the right to a healthy environment is “key to increase priority for environmental protection and climate action,” and that  they will launch a resolution process at the UNGA in the coming months.

As a network of scholars and practitioners working on the intersection of human rights and the environment, the GNHRE has always taken a critically engaged approach to new developments of international environmental law, engaging with research and practice that examines both the possibilities and limits of human rights approaches to addressing problems of environmental governance and loss. While we maintain our critical stance, we also recognise the importance of finding critical solutions and engaging in advocacy and activism that supports inclusive and responsive developments in the law. As a result, the GNHRE and some of its members, decided to begin a process of engaging with and contributing to  the efforts of the core group, starting with an advocacy letter sent to all of the UNGA ambassadors. 

In this letter, the GNHRE outlined some of the key reasons why UNGA ambassadors should support UNGA recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The UNGA’s recognition of this right would come at a crucial juncture, as the effects of industrial activities are radically changing the conditions on our planet, , ranging from climate change to loss of biodiversity, and air, water, and land pollution, the spread of zoonotic disease, extreme weather events, and conflict over increasingly scarce resources. 

More than 150 countries already legally recognise a right to a healthy environment as a matter of law in some form. For those States which do not currently recognise the right and are not party to relevant international treaties, the resolution would provide a pathway to informing and strengthening environmental standards and policies that support both the environment and the enjoyment of other human rights. For those States that do recognise the right, the resolution would give greater impetus and support for existing initiatives and encourage greater ambition and commitment to the realization of environmentally dependent human rights. 

The recognition of the right to a healthy environment has been connected to improved social, economic and environmental laws, policies and standards relating to the enjoyment of a healthy environment. Universal recognition would catalyze progress at national and regional levels across the Global North and the Global South,  and contribute to the ability of people all around the world to live healthy lives and enjoy their human rights. It would also be a tool for advocacy and activism by marginalised peoples and for their greater inclusion and participation in environmental decision-making at the local, national and international levels. 

The GNHRE thanks the members who drafted this advocacy letter for their invaluable expertise. 

The Working Group included: 

Dina Lupin

Maria Antonia Tigre 

Victoria Lichet 

Natalia Urzola 

Alexandra R. Harrington 

James May 

Chris Jeffords

Claudia Ituarte-Lima

Joshua C. Gellers

Asmaa Khadim 

Otto Spijkers

Aoife Daly

Hannah Blitzer

Rosanna Anderson

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin

Elisa Morgera

Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster 

Pedro Cisterna

Rosemary Mwanza

Link to the GNHRE letter draft:

Astrid Milena Bernal

By Astrid Milena Bernal

Astrid Milena Bernal Rubio is a Colombian LL.M student at Pennsylvania State University (concentrations in International Law and Energy and Environmental Law). She is a lawyer from the Universidad Católica de Colombia, Magister in Environmental Law from the Complutense University of Madrid and Specialist in human rights and critical legal studies from the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) Latin American School of Public Policy- ELAP.

As part of the technical team of GFLAC (climate finance group for Latin America and the Caribbean), she supported the creation of the MRV system (monitoring, reporting and verification) for climate finance in Colombia. In addition, she has been a consultant for the WRI (World Resources Institute) and The Access Initiative (TAI), working as the National researcher for the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI). Also, she has worked as a consultant for AVINA Foundation, The Bogotá’s drainage and sewerage company (EAAB). She has worked as a lawyer and researcher on issues associated with public participation, access to information, forests, carbon markets, rights of indigenous peoples and rural communities in Colombia.

Astrid was a volunteer for the Network for Environmental Justice in Colombia and promoted the creation and growth of the climate justice division at the Environment and Society Association (AAS) of Colombia. She worked as the Climate Justice division coordinator for five years. Astrid was a senior research coordinator in a joint research project with UNICEF to contribute to the fulfilment of the SDGs (6), focusing its work on guaranteeing the rights of access to sanitation for rural, indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in Colombia. She is also part of the founders of the Colombian NGO- CAMBIUM (Climate, Environment and Research-Action Uniting Worlds). This organization aims to, directly and indirectly, influence processes carried out by civil society and decision-makers related to climate change.

Currently, she works at the Global Forest Coalition as an associate for the Unsustainable Livestock Campaign. Astrid also supports the work of Pivot Point and the CLARA group (Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance), promoting the understanding and participation of CSOs to ensure higher ambition of NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) in Spanish speakers countries.

Astrid is a research assistant at Penn State University identifying how different kinds of transboundary river basin organizations have written and used dispute resolution mechanisms in both the bilateral agreements between the US, Mexico and Canada (NAFTA-USMCA) and the Autonomous Binational Authority of the Basin of Lake Titicaca (Bolivia, Peru).

Astrid is member of the core team in the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE), she is part of the global network of environmental lawyers (ELAW) and collaborates as a volunteer for The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition- CAIR coalition.