Healthy Environment Becomes a Potential Basic Human Right

A post created by Brandy Herfort, Junior Associate.

The United Nations accounts for more than 2 million deaths in connection with an unhealthy environment. [1] Activists and the United Nations have been advocating that a healthy environment be considered a basic human right. [2] “If the right to a clean and healthy environment is enshrined in international law, states would be expressly obligated to ‘respect, protect, and fulfil’ it. It should and would impact domestic law around the globe.” [3] There are several reasons why advocates are moving to have a healthy environment to be recognized as a human rights issue:


  1. A prerequisite of other Human Rights. A healthy environment is a pre-condition of being able to enjoy other basic rights. [4] An unhealthy environment can affect one’s ability to live their life, have access to food, and be healthy, which are basic human rights. [5] To accomplish these goals, the Human Rights Council further extended a mandate where they gave Special Rapporteur, David R. Boyd, the job of identifying, studying promoting and creating annual reports giving comments and recommendations to the connection between a healthy environment and human rights. [6]


  1. Causation of mass migration. Because there are no laws that specifically make damage to the environment a crime, it has caused a mass migration in areas that are exposed to severe environmental issues. [7] For instance, just this year there have been massive wildfires that stretched across the Amazon, heatwaves through Europe, cyclones across South Africa and several other environmental challenges that countries have faced. [8] All of these events have caused mass migrations of people because they are unable to live where they are located. People campaigning for what they have termed ‘ecocide’ or ‘climate apartheid’ are encouraging legislators to act now. [9]


The main idea behind a healthy environment as a human right is that “people are entitled to live in a healthy, clean, and safe environment.” [10] Common ways that this right is enforced is by passing laws that protect the air, water, food and soil, however most countries fall short to enforce them properly. [11]


By passing legislation that explicitly enshrines that a healthy environment is a basic human right in international law, countries will be held accountable and subject to punishment if failing to comply with the laws. It will help create a more livable environment and reduce the amount of deaths attributed to environmental issues and give people their right to live in a healthy, clean and safe environment.





[1] UN Environment, Human Rights and the Environment,

[2] Jonathan Watts, UN moves towards recognising human right to a healthy environment, The Guardian (Mar. 27, 2018),

[3] Bel Trew, A clean and healthy environment should be a basic human right- international law could make it one, Independent (Nov. 10, 2019, 2:15 PM),

[4] UN Environment supra note 1.

[5] ESCR-Net, The Right to an Adequate/Healthy Environment,

[6] United Nations Human Rights, Overview of the Mandate,

[7] Trew, supra note 3.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Nicholas F. Stump, Is a healthy environment a human right? Testing the idea in Appalachia,  The Conversation (July 13, 2017, 10:44 PM),

[11] Id.




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