The United Nations’ main human rights body has overwhelmingly voted to recognise the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right, and to appoint an expert to monitor human rights in the context of climate change.

The Human Rights Council passed the clean-environment resolution, which also calls on countries to boost their abilities to improve the environment, by 43-0 while four member states — China, India, Japan and Russia — abstained.

Global recognition

Lucy McKernan, deputy director for UN advocacy at Human Rights Watch, called the clean-environment measure a “significant advance” to help address the global environmental crisis.

“Global recognition of this right will help empower local communities to defend their livelihoods, health, and culture against environmental destruction, and help governments develop stronger and more coherent environmental protection laws and policies,” she said.

Special rapporteur

Another resolution created a three-year post of a special rapporteur who will – among other things – monitor “how the adverse effects of climate change, including sudden and slow onset disasters, affect the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.”

Also see: The biofuels route to carbon neutrality

The measure passed 42-1. Russia objected, and China, Eritrea, India and Japan abstained.

The votes came on the second-last day of the 47-member council’s autumn session which, among other things, approved a special rapporteur to monitor rights in Afghanistan — a vote opposed by Pakistan — and ended an effort to monitor rights in war-torn Yemen.