An expert official for the United Nations is imploring the international community this week to recognize that all people should have a right to a healthy environment in which to live, a concept that has been enshrined in the constitutions of more than 100 nations but has never received recognition as a basic human right.
“In many ways, the United Nations needs to try and catch up with where national countries are,” said John Knox, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Right and the Environment, at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. “The time has come to recognize this formal interdependence of human rights and the environment, not only at national level but at the U.N. level too.”
Knox noted that living in a healthy environment affords access to numerous other necessities that have been recognized as human rights, including the right to life, food, and water.
“At the same time, the exercise of other freedoms, including the rights to information, participation, and remedy, is vital to the protection of the environment,” he added.
Knox’s recommendation came amid a multitude of setbacks around the world as green groups advocate for reduced carbon emissions and pollution in an effort to provide people with a healthy environment, and reverse the accelerating climate crisis.
Also on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. dismissed a civil rights case in which residents of a largely African-American town said their rights were violated when the government allowed the dumping of toxic coal ash at a landfill there. Residents say the coal ash, which contains mercury and arsenic—and which the EPA itself has linked to serious health problems—has caused nosebleeds, breathing difficulties, and cancer diagnoses in the community.
Air pollution has improved in some major Chinese cities, but remains an issue in much of the country, with coal use rising slightly overall in 2017.