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Joint Civil Society & Indigenous Peoples Letter: Reaffirmation by UNGA of the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

Dear Ambassador,

We respectfully write to you today to convey the hopes and expectations of over 1350 organizations from civil society, social, environmental, youth, gender equality and human rights movements, trade unions, local communities and Indigenous Peoples who have joined voices to urge the UN to recognize without further delay the right of everyone to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The undersigned represent a group of organizations engaging with the United Nations (UN) on matters of human rights and environmental justice.

We are writing to draw your attention to a matter of an urgent nature that needs to be addressed by the UN General Assembly (UNGA): the universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

As you might recall, on 8 October 2021, during its 48th session, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted resolution 48/13 with 43 votes, no objections and only 4 abstentions which “recognize[d] the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights”. By doing so, the HRC took a decisive first step towards ensuring that the UN human rights institutions can better address one of the most pressing threats to the enjoyment of human rights. The resolution invited the UNGA to consider the matter. During the informal meeting of the GA plenary, held on 19 January 2022, to hear the President’s briefing on his priorities for the resumed part of the seventy-sixth session, representatives of the Maldives and Costa Rica called on the GA to adopt a resolution reaffirming the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a matter of priority. In addition, several member states mentioned the importance of the universal recognition of this right during the consultations held earlier this month on Our Common Agenda (OCA) Protect Our Planet dimension.

We therefore encourage Your Excellency and Your Permanent Mission to proactively engage with others to ensure smooth passage of a UNGA resolution reaffirming the recognition of this right without delay.

Dramatic real-world events stemming from environmental destruction and pollution on all continents show the daily impacts on people of our failure to recognize the links between a healthy environment and peoples’ well-being. Recent scientific reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services further drive home this reality. It is urgent for states to take ambitious, coordinated action – grounded in human rights laws and principles – to create the foundation to accelerate action to stop and reverse environmental decline for the survival of all life on earth and the benefit of people and planet.

The UNGA now has a key role to play to reinforcing the recognition of the right of everyone to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Doing so now would provide a powerful message when states gather this June in Stockholm to commemorate the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment and celebrate 50 years of global environmental action. Universal recognition will catalyse progress at national level and contribute to the ability of people everywhere to live healthy lives.

Support for universal recognition is broad and diverse. Additional recent initiatives in support of the universal recognition include:

We call on the UNGA to add its voice to this significant support for the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

On behalf of the signatories listed below, we wish to express our gratitude for your consideration of this Global Call and remain at your disposal and that of your permanent mission for any matter related to the upcoming adoption of a UNGA resolution reaffirming the recognition of the right of everyone to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Kind regards, 

David Nichols, UN Representative and Senior Advocate (New York), Amnesty International

Noelle Kumpel, Head of Policy, BirdLife International

Carroll Muffett, President & CEO, Center for International Environmental Law

Blair Nelsen, UN Representative, Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

Martin Wagner, Managing Attorney, International Program, Earthjustice

Marya Farah, UN Representative - New York, Franciscans International

Yann Aguila, Director General, Global Pact Coalition

Richard Pearshouse, Director of Environment & Human Rights Division, Human Rights Watch

Massimo Frigo, UN Representative & Senior Legal Adviser, International Commission of Jurists

Andrea Carmen, Executive Director, International Indian Treaty Council (IITC)

Teresa Koturan & Michelle Loisel, NGO Representatives at the UN, New York for Sisters of Charity Federation

Leila Asrari, UN Representative and Head of New York Office, Plan International

Wang Le, UN Representative and Director of New York Global Advocacy Office, Save the Children International

R. Múkaro Agüeibaná Borrero, Interim Executive Director, Tribal Link Foundation

Marc Limon, Executive Director, Universal Rights Group

Şehnaz Kıymaz Bahçeci, Coordinator, Women’s Major Group

Delfin Ganapin, Leader, Governance Practice, WWF International

With the support of:
John H. Knox, Professor of Law, Wake Forest University, former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

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