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The UN environmental rights initiative is making changes

Mar. 21, 2018
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The UN is trudging forward with the launch of a new initiative for rights and accountability. Activism is a globally common practice, but it’s often isolated from community to community. The public eye is indifferent to full engagement in current issues, especially environmental concerns. To step up its game, the UN has shown plans to build a stronger association of environmental rights with human rights. The agenda contains legal and social efforts as part of sewing a closer relationship between nature and humans. Naturally, relevance provides a sturdy platform for awareness.

At least 44 countries enforce a safe and healthy environment as a constitutional right. This approach to environmental rights has been building since the 1970s. Moving forward, the UN Environmental Rights Initiative will set new standards in understanding environmental and human rights. Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), commented on the initiative: “It’s our duty to stand on the side of those who are on the right side of history. It means standing for the most fundamental and universal of human rights.”

The plan is to create an understanding of environmental rights, human rights, and how to defend those rights. Before, environmental rights were ignored, pushed aside, or simply not contemplated. Everything done to the environment was attached to economic gain, with no concept of the potential consequences. However, those repercussions have been realized. Currently, more organizations (like Clean Water Action) are pushing for environmental preservation.

In past years, environmental rights supporters battled individual motives of countries using law and policy to over-regulate and monitor non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Countries like India and Egypt include NGOs in categories of “anti-national” and “terrorist entities.” Restrictive measures keep a hold on the activities of NGOs working for change. As a result, the UN is calling for engagement from all sides. Greater activism (in the forms of legal policies, education, and media coverage) is encouraged to help the organizations and people involved.

Shockingly, the violence towards environmental advocates, whether physical or verbal, is very real. Around four environmental advocates are killed weekly, as reported by the international NGO Global Witness in January. In 2017 alone, 197 environmental advocates were killed, with 40-50% belonging to indigenous and local communities. The new drive promoting environmental rights places more support on its mission, allowing society to understand its weighty importance.

Expect more legal backing and educational resources from this new initiative. Policies will be set to implement a more mindful interaction between individuals and the world around them. On the educational side, informational and training materials about supporting environmental rights will be made available. Exact plans have not been set as of yet. One hope for this initiative is that its supporters won’t be merely compliant, but genuinely interested in the protection of their surroundings. After all, the environment and humans impact one another very directly.

The environment intertwines with human rights. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, describes his take on the connection: “Violations of environmental rights have a profound impact on a wide variety of human rights, including the rights to life, self-determination, food, water, health, sanitation, housing, cultural, civil and political rights.” Education on maintaining the environment is a benefit for all who walk this Earth. How these problems are dealt with now will directly impact the size of the problems future generations will face.

The initiative is creating responsibility at a state level, calling for businesses to own up to doing their part in maintaining the environment as well. To add on, the UN is emphasizing this initiative as a global interest and right. Now, global interest is accompanied by personal responsibility.