Access to a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment has been declared a human right by the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 8, 2021.

In resolution 48/13, the Human Rights Council called on all Member States to work together, and with other partners, to implement this newly recognized right. The text of the resolution, proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, and Switzerland, was passed with 43 votes in favour and four abstentions (from Russia, India, China, and Japan). In addition, the Council issued resolution 48/14, which establishes a Special Rapporteur dedicated specifically to that issue.

A plea for a prompt and real effect

In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called on the Member States to take “bold actions” to give prompt and real effect to the right to a healthy environment. Ms. Bachelet said that having long called for such a step, she was gratified that the decision clearly recognizes environmental degradation and climate change as interconnected human rights crises. “Bold action is now required to ensure this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social and environmental policies that will protect people and nature,” she added.

The resolution acknowledges the damage inflicted by climate change and environmental destruction on millions of people across the world. It also underlines that the most vulnerable segments of the population are more acutely impacted. The issue will now go to the United Nations General Assembly in New York for further consideration.

Decades-long efforts

Following the passage of the resolution, Michelle Bachelet paid tribute to the efforts of a diverse array of civil society organizations, including youth groups, national human rights institutions, indigenous peoples’ organizations, businesses, and many others. She also noted that an unprecedented number of environmental human rights defenders were reported killed last year, urging the Member States to take firm measures to protect and empower them. “We must build on this momentum to move beyond the false separation of environmental action and protection of human rights. It is all too clear that neither goal can be achieved without the other”, she said.

The decision comes three weeks before the UN climate change summit, COP26, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in early November.


Digital for Planet is thrilled that access to a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment has been officially declared a human right. Now, we must work together to ensure that this right is respected across the world. Digital for Planet is dedicated to reducing the negative impact ICT has on the environment by helping organizations develop and adopt sustainable digital technologies. We invite industry representatives, regulators, policymakers, researchers, as well as citizens to join us on this mission. Only by coming together, we will be able to effectively guide green digital transformation across all sectors so that we can intelligently protect our environment.