37/59 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
Human Rights Council Thirty-seventh session
26 February–23 March 2018
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
Note by the Secretariat
The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of
the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of
a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, John H. Knox, in which he presents
framework principles on human rights and the environment, addresses the human right to a
safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and looks ahead to the next steps in the
evolving relationship between human rights and the environment.
United Nations A/HRC/37/59
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
1. The present report is the final report of the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights
Council. It presents framework principles on human rights and the environment, addresses
the human right to a healthy environment and looks forward to the next steps in the
evolving relationship between human rights and the environment.
2. The mandate was established in March 2012 by the Council in its resolution 19/10,
in which it decided to appoint an independent expert with a mandate to study the human
rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable
environment and to identify and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights
obligations and commitments to inform, support and strengthen environmental
policymaking. John H. Knox was appointed to the position in August 2012. In his first
report, presented to the Council in March 2013, he emphasized that human rights and the
environment are interdependent (A/HRC/22/43). A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable
environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of a vast range of human rights, including
the rights to life, health, food, water and development. At the same time, the exercise of
human rights, including the rights to information, participation and remedy, is vital to the
protection of the environment.
3. Over the first two years of the mandate, the Independent Expert sought to map the
human rights obligations relating to the environment in more detail. He held a series of
regional consultations around the world and, with the help of attorneys and academics
working pro bono, reviewed hundreds of statements of treaty bodies, regional human rights
tribunals, special procedure mandate holders and other human rights authorities that had
applied human rights norms to environmental issues. He described the statements in 14
reports, each of which addressed one source or set of sources. He found that despite the
diversity of the sources, their views on the relationship of human rights law and the
environment were remarkably coherent. His second report, presented in March 2014,
summarized these views (A/HRC/25/53). Virtually every source reviewed identified human
rights whose enjoyment was infringed or threatened by environmental harm, and agreed
that States had obligations under human rights law to protect against such harm. The
obligations included procedural obligations (such as duties to provide information, facilitate
participation and provide access to remedies), substantive obligations (including to regulate
private actors) and heightened obligations to those in particularly vulnerable situations.
4. On the basis of his research and regional consultations, the Independent Expert also
identified good practices in the use of these obligations, and in his next report to the
Council, presented in March 2015, he described more than 100 such good practices
(A/HRC/28/61). He published more detailed descriptions of each of the good practices on
the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR), and made them available in a searchable database at
5. In March 2015, in its resolution 28/11, the Human Rights Council decided to extend
the mandate of John H. Knox as a special rapporteur on the issue of human rights
obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
for a period of three years. The Council encouraged him to continue to study the human
rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable
environment and to identify and promote good practices relating to those obligations. He
has submitted reports on specific aspects of that relationship, including a report on climate
change and human rights in 2016 (A/HRC/31/52), a report on biodiversity and human
rights in 2017 (A/HRC/34/49), and a report on children’s rights and the environment to the
current session of the Council (A/HRC/37/58).
6. In resolution 28/11, the Council also encouraged the Special Rapporteur to promote
and report on the realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe,
clean, healthy and sustainable environment, to disseminate his findings by continuing to
give particular emphasis to practical solutions with regard to their implementation and to
work on identifying challenges and obstacles to the full realization of such obligations. The
Special Rapporteur presented a report in March 2016 with specific recommendations on
implementation of the human rights obligations relating to the environment
(A/HRC/31/53). In his second term, he has promoted implementation of the obligations in
many ways, including by partnering with the United Nations Environment Programme on a
series of judicial workshops on constitutional rights to a healthy environment, supporting
the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in the development of an online
course on human rights and the environment and working with the Universal Rights Group
to develop a website for environmental human rights defenders, https://www.environment-
rights.org/, as well as by undertaking country visits and receiving communications on
II. Framework principles on human rights and the environment
7. To facilitate implementation of the human rights obligations relating to the
enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the Special Rapporteur
was urged to develop and disseminate guidance that clearly describes the relevant norms
and is easy to understand and apply (see A/HRC/31/53, para. 69). In October 2017, the
Special Rapporteur published draft guidelines on human rights and the environment and
invited written comments. He also held a public consultation and an expert seminar, which
included representatives of Governments, international organizations, civil society
organizations and academics. He took into account the input received at the consultation
and the seminar, as well as more than 50 written comments, in preparing the framework
principles on human rights and the environment that are annexed to the present report.
8. The 16 framework principles set out basic obligations of States under human rights
law as they relate to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Each framework principle has a commentary that elaborates on it and further clarifies its
meaning. The framework principles and commentary do not create new obligations. Rather,
they reflect the application of existing human rights obligations in the environmental
context. As the Special Rapporteur stated in the mapping report (A/HRC/25/53), he
understands that not all States have formally accepted all of these norms. While many of
the obligations described in the framework principles and commentary are based directly on
treaties or binding decisions from human rights tribunals, others draw on statements of
human rights bodies that have the authority to interpret human rights law but not
necessarily to issue binding decisions.1
9. The coherence of these interpretations, however, is strong evidence of the
converging trends towards greater uniformity and certainty in the understanding of human
rights obligations relating to the environment. These trends are further supported by State
practice, including in international environmental instruments and before human rights
bodies. As a result, the Special Rapporteur believes that States should accept the framework
principles as a reflection of actual or emerging international human rights law. He is
confident that, at a bare minimum, States will see them as best practices that they should
move to adopt as expeditiously as possible.
1 To avoid making the document too long and unwieldy, the framework principles and commentary do
not cite all of the human rights sources on which they rely. A more complete list of sources is
available on the OHCHR website. Although the framework principles and commentary do not attempt
to restate obligations in areas other than human rights law, they do take into account relevant
international environmental sources, such as the Guidelines for the Development of National
Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental
Matters (the Bali Guidelines), adopted by the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment
Programme in 2010.
10. After consideration, the Special Rapporteur chose the name “framework principles”
because he thought that it best reflected the nature of the document. The framework
principles and commentary provide a sturdy basis for understanding and implementing
human rights obligations relating to the environment, but they are in no sense the final
word. The relationship between human rights and the environment has countless facets, and
our understanding of it will continue to grow for many years to come. These framework
principles do not purport to describe all of the human rights obligations that can be brought
to bear on environmental issues today, much less attempt to predict those that may evolve
in the future. The goal is simply to describe the main human rights obligations that apply in
the environmental context, in order to facilitate their practical implementation and further
development. To that end, the Special Rapporteur urges States, international organizations
and civil society organizations to disseminate and publicize the framework principles, and
to take them into account in their own activities.
III. The human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
11. An unusual aspect of the development of human rights norms relating to the
environment is that they have not relied primarily on the explicit recognition of a human
right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment — or, more simply, a human
right to a healthy environment. Although this right has been recognized, in various forms,
in regional agreements and in most national constitutions, it has not been adopted in a
human rights agreement of global application, and only one regional agreement, the African
Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, provides for its interpretation in decisions by a
12. Treaty bodies, regional tribunals, special rapporteurs and other international human
rights bodies have instead applied human rights law to environmental issues by “greening”
existing human rights, including the rights to life and health. As the mapping report
explained and the framework principles demonstrate, this process has been quite successful,
creating an extensive jurisprudence on human rights and the environment. In retrospect, this
development is not as surprising as it may have seemed when it first began, over two
decades ago. Environmental harm interferes with the full enjoyment of a wide spectrum of
human rights, and the obligations of States to respect human rights, to protect human rights
from interference and to fulfil human rights apply in the environmental context no less than
in any other.
13. Explicit recognition of the human right to a healthy environment thus turned out to
be unnecessary for the application of human rights norms to environmental issues. At the
same time, it is significant that the great majority of the countries in the world have
recognized the right at the national or regional level, or both. Based on the experience of
the countries that have adopted constitutional rights to a healthy environment, recognition
of the right has proved to have real advantages. It has raised the profile and importance of
environmental protection and provided a basis for the enactment of stronger environmental
laws. When applied by the judiciary, it has helped to provide a safety net to protect against
gaps in statutory laws and created opportunities for better access to justice. Courts in many
countries are increasingly applying the right, as is illustrated by the interest in the regional
judicial workshops held by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Special
14. On the basis of this experience, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Human
Rights Council consider supporting the recognition of the right in a global instrument. A
model could be the rights to water and sanitation, which, like the right to a healthy
environment, are not explicitly recognized in United Nations human rights treaties but are
clearly necessary to the full enjoyment of human rights. In 2010, in its resolution 64/292,
the General Assembly recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation
as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. The
General Assembly could adopt a similar resolution that recognizes the right to a safe, clean,
healthy and sustainable environment, another right that is essential for the full enjoyment of
life and all human rights.2
15. States may be understandably reluctant to recognize a “new” human right if its
content is uncertain. To be sure that a right will be taken seriously, it is important to be
clear about its implications. The Special Rapporteur notes that one of the primary goals of
his work on the mandate has been to clarify what human rights law requires with respect to
environmental protection, including through the mapping project and these framework
principles. As a result, the “human right to a healthy environment” is not an empty vessel
waiting to be filled; on the contrary, its content has already been clarified, through
recognition by human rights authorities that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable
environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of the human rights to life, health, food,
water, housing and so forth. Here, too, the right is similar to the rights to water and
sanitation, whose content had been addressed in detail by the Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights and Catarina de Albuquerque, the first Independent Expert on
the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation,
before the General Assembly acted in 2010.
16. Even without formal recognition, the term “the human right to a healthy
environment” is already being used to refer to the environmental aspects of the entire range
of human rights that depend on a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The use
of the term in this way — and, for that matter, the adoption of a resolution recognizing the
right — does not change the legal content of obligations that are based on existing human
rights law. Nevertheless, it has real advantages. It raises awareness that human rights norms
require protection of the environment and highlights that environmental protection is on the
same level of importance as other human interests that are fundamental to human dignity,
equality and freedom. It also helps to ensure that human rights norms relating to the
environment continue to develop in a coherent and integrated manner. Recognition of the
right in a General Assembly resolution would further strengthen all of these benefits.
IV. Looking forward
17. Although the relationship of human rights and the environment has evolved rapidly
over the past two decades, and even more so over the past five years, much remains to be
done to clarify and implement the human rights obligations relating to a safe, clean, healthy
and sustainable environment. The Special Rapporteur encourages the Human Rights
Council to continue to be actively involved in the development of this relationship,
including by renewing the mandate.
18. For example, more work is necessary to clarify how human rights norms relating to
the environment apply to specific areas, including issues of gender and other types of
discrimination, the responsibilities of businesses in relation to human rights and the
environment, the effects of armed conflict on human rights and the environment, and
obligations of international cooperation in relation to multinational corporations and
19. More work, too, can be done to institutionalize support for capacity-building,
including by instituting an annual forum on human rights and environmental issues; holding
conferences for national human rights institutions on environmental matters; continuing to
hold judicial workshops on human rights and the environment; instituting similar
workshops for officials at environmental, mining and other agencies; strengthening
2 A resolution by the General Assembly is not the only possible instrument through which a right to a
healthy environment could be formally recognized. The Special Rapporteur notes that at the seventy-
second session of the General Assembly, the Government of France presented for consideration a
Global Pact for the Environment, article 1 of which indicates that “Every person has the right to live
in an ecologically sound environment adequate for their health, well-being, dignity, culture and
fulfilment”. However, a resolution may be adopted more quickly and easily than an international
accountability mechanisms for human rights violations in connection with conservation
activities; and mainstreaming human rights into the work of international institutions
working on development and environmental issues. In this last respect, the Special
Rapporteur applauds the recent announcement by the United Nations Environment
Programme of a new “environmental rights initiative”, designed in part to support
environmental human rights defenders. He encourages OHCHR and the United Nations
Environment Programme to continue to build on their partnership.
20. As Victor Hugo famously said, it is impossible to resist an idea whose time has
come. The interdependence of human rights and the environment is an idea whose time is
here. Over the past five years, the Special Rapporteur has made over 50 trips, to
approximately 25 countries. Everywhere he has gone, he has met people who are bringing
human rights to bear on environmental threats, often at great personal risk. From attorneys
in Mexico to park rangers in Mongolia, from professors in China to community activists in
Madagascar, from a mother who founded an environmental organization in Kenya to
conservationists in Sweden to judges in Costa Rica, from indigenous leaders in Brazil to
climate negotiators in Paris to international civil servants in Geneva and Nairobi, people in
every country are striving for a world in which everyone can enjoy the human rights that
depend upon a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It has been a great honour
to support them in their efforts.
Framework principles on human rights and the environment
1. Human beings are part of nature, and our human rights are intertwined with the
environment in which we live. Environmental harm interferes with the enjoyment of human
rights, and the exercise of human rights helps to protect the environment and to promote
2. The framework principles on human rights and the environment summarize the main
human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable
environment. They provide integrated and detailed guidance for practical implementation of
these obligations, and a basis for their further development as our understanding of the
relationship of human rights and the environment continues to evolve.
3. The framework principles are not exhaustive: many national and international norms
are relevant to human rights and environmental protection, and nothing in the framework
principles should be interpreted as limiting or undermining standards that provide higher
levels of protection under national or international law.
Framework principle 1
States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
Framework principle 2
States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in order to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Commentary on framework principles 1 and 2
4. Human rights and environmental protection are interdependent. A safe, clean,
healthy and sustainable environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights,
including the rights to life, to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,
to an adequate standard of living, to adequate food, to safe drinking water and sanitation, to
housing, to participation in cultural life and to development, as well as the right to a healthy
environment itself, which is recognized in regional agreements and most national
constitutions.1 At the same time, the exercise of human rights, including rights to freedom
of expression and association, to education and information, and to participation and
effective remedies, is vital to the protection of the environment.
5. The obligations of States to respect human rights, to protect the enjoyment of human
rights from harmful interference,2 and to fulfil human rights by working towards their full
realization3 all apply in the environmental context. States should therefore refrain from
violating human rights through causing or allowing environmental harm; protect against
harmful environmental interference from other sources, including business enterprises,
1 See Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to
Justice in Environmental Matters, art. 1; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 24;
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights, art. 11; Arab Charter on Human Rights, art. 38; and ASEAN Human Rights
Declaration, art. 28. More than 100 States have recognized the right at the national level.
2 See, for example, Human Rights Committee, general comment No. 6 (1982) on the right to life, para.
3 See, for example, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 14
(2000) on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, para. 33.
other private actors and natural causes; and take effective steps to ensure the conservation
and sustainable use of the ecosystems and biological diversity on which the full enjoyment
of human rights depends. While it may not always be possible to prevent all environmental
harm that interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights, States should undertake due
diligence to prevent such harm and reduce it to the extent possible, and provide for
remedies for any remaining harm.
6. At the same time, States must fully comply with their obligations in respect of
human rights, such as freedom of expression, that are exercised in relation to the
environment. Such obligations not only have independent bases in human rights law; they
are also required in order to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights whose enjoyment
depends on a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Framework principle 3
States should prohibit discrimination and ensure equal and effective protection against discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
7. The obligations of States to prohibit discrimination and to ensure equal and effective
protection against discrimination4 apply to the equal enjoyment of human rights relating to
a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. States therefore have obligations, among
others, to protect against environmental harm that results from or contributes to
discrimination, to provide for equal access to environmental benefits and to ensure that
their actions relating to the environment do not themselves discriminate.
8. Discrimination may be direct, when someone is treated less favourably than another
person in a similar situation for a reason related to a prohibited ground, or indirect, when
facially neutral laws, policies or practices have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of
human rights as distinguished by prohibited grounds of discrimination. 5 In the
environmental context, direct discrimination may include, for example, failing to ensure
that members of disfavoured groups have the same access as others to information about
environmental matters, to participation in environmental decision-making, or to remedies
for environmental harm (framework principles 7, 9 and 10). In the case of transboundary
environmental harm, States should provide for equal access to information, participation
and remedies without discriminating on the basis of nationality or domicile.
9. Indirect discrimination may arise, for example, when measures that adversely affect
ecosystems, such as mining and logging concessions, have disproportionately severe effects
on communities that rely on the ecosystems. Indirect discrimination can also include
measures such as authorizing toxic and hazardous facilities in large numbers in
communities that are predominantly composed of racial or other minorities, thereby
disproportionately interfering with their rights, including their rights to life, health, food
and water. Like directly discriminatory measures, such indirect differential treatment is
4 For example, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 2 (1) and 26; International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 2 (2); International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, arts. 2 and 5; Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 2; Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 2;
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, art. 5. The term “discrimination” here refers to
any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour,
sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other
status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or
exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms. Human Rights Committee,
general comment No. 18 (1989) on non-discrimination, para. 7.
5 See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 20 (2009) on non-
discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, para. 10.
prohibited unless it meets strict requirements of legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.6
More generally, to address indirect as well as direct discrimination, States must pay
attention to historical or persistent prejudice against groups of individuals, recognize that
environmental harm can both result from and reinforce existing patterns of discrimination,
and take effective measures against the underlying conditions that cause or help to
perpetuate discrimination. 7 In addition to complying with their obligations of non-
discrimination, States should take additional measures to protect those who are most
vulnerable to, or at particular risk from, environmental harm (framework principles 14 and
Framework principle 4
States should provide a safe and enabling environment in which individuals, groups and organs of society that work on human rights or environmental issues can operate free from threats, harassment, intimidation and violence.
10. Human rights defenders include individuals and groups who strive to protect and
promote human rights relating to the environment (see A/71/281, para. 7). Those who work
to protect the environment on which the enjoyment of human rights depends are protecting
and promoting human rights as well, whether or not they self-identify as human rights
defenders. They are among the human rights defenders most at risk, and the risks are
particularly acute for indigenous peoples and traditional communities that depend on the
natural environment for their subsistence and culture.
11. Like other human rights defenders, environmental human rights defenders are
entitled to all of the rights and protections set out in the Declaration on the Right and
Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect
Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders), including the right to be protected in their work and the right to strive
for the protection and realization of human rights at the national and international levels. To
that end, States must provide a safe and enabling environment for defenders to operate free
from threats, harassment, intimidation and violence. The requirements for such an
environment include that States: adopt and implement laws that protect human rights
defenders in accordance with international human rights standards;8 publicly recognize the
contributions of human rights defenders to society and ensure that their work is not
criminalized or stigmatized; develop, in consultation with human rights defenders, effective
programmes for protection and early warning; provide appropriate training for security and
law enforcement officials; ensure the prompt and impartial investigation of threats and
violations and the prosecution of alleged perpetrators; and provide for effective remedies
for violations, including appropriate compensation (see A/71/281, A/66/203 and
A/HRC/25/55, paras. 54–133).
6 Ibid., para. 13.
7 Ibid., para. 8.
8 See Model Law for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders, at
Framework principle 5
States should respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in relation to environmental matters.
12. The obligations of States to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression,
association and peaceful assembly9 encompass the exercise of those rights in relation to
environmental matters. States must ensure that these rights are protected whether they are
being exercised within structured decision-making procedures or in other forums, such as
the news or social media, and whether or not they are being exercised in opposition to
policies or projects favoured by the State.
13. Restrictions on the exercise of these rights are permitted only if they are provided by
law and necessary in a democratic society to protect the rights of others, or to protect
national security, public order, or public health or morals. These restrictions must be
narrowly tailored to avoid undermining the rights. For example, blanket prohibitions on
protests surrounding the operations of mining, forestry or other resource extraction
companies are unjustifiable (see A/HRC/29/25, para. 22). States may never respond to the
exercise of these rights with excessive or indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrest or
detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced
disappearance, the misuse of criminal laws, stigmatization or the threats of such acts. States
should never hinder the access of individuals or associations to international bodies, or their
right to seek, receive and use resources from foreign as well as domestic sources.10 When
violence occurs in an otherwise peaceful assembly or protest, States have a duty to
distinguish between peaceful and non-peaceful demonstrators, take measures to de-escalate
tensions and hold the violent individuals — not the organizers — to account for their
actions. The potential for violence is not an excuse to interfere with or disperse otherwise
peaceful assemblies (see A/HRC/29/25, para. 41).
14. States must also protect the exercise of these rights from interference by businesses
and other private actors. States must ensure that civil laws relating to defamation and libel
are not misused to repress the exercise of these rights. States should protect against the
repression of legitimate advocacy by private security enterprises, and States may not cede
their own law enforcement responsibilities to such enterprises or other private actors.
Framework principle 6
States should provide for education and public awareness on environmental matters.
15. States have agreed that the education of the child shall be directed to, among other
things, the development of respect for human rights and the natural environment. 11
Environmental education should begin early and continue throughout the educational
process. It should increase students’ understanding of the close relationship between
humans and nature, help them to appreciate and enjoy the natural world and strengthen their
capacity to respond to environmental challenges.
16. Increasing the public awareness of environmental matters should continue into
adulthood. To ensure that adults as well as children understand environmental effects on
their health and well-being, States should make the public aware of the specific
environmental risks that affect them and how they may protect themselves from those risks.
9 See Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arts. 19–20; International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, arts. 19 and 21–22.
10 See Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, arts. 9 (4) and 13.
11 See Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 29.
As part of increasing public awareness, States should build the capacity of the public to
understand environmental challenges and policies, so that they may fully exercise their
rights to express their views on environmental issues (framework principle 5), understand
environmental information, including assessments of environmental impacts (framework
principles 7 and 8), participate in decision-making (framework principle 9) and, where
appropriate, seek remedies for violations of their rights (framework principle 10). States
should tailor environmental education and public awareness programmes to the culture,
language and environmental situation of particular populations.
Framework principle 7
States should provide public access to environmental information by collecting and disseminating information and by providing affordable, effective and timely access to information to any person upon request.
17. The human right of all persons to seek, receive and impart information12 includes
information on environmental matters. Public access to environmental information enables
individuals to understand how environmental harm may undermine their rights, including
the rights to life and health, and supports their exercise of other rights, including the rights
to expression, association, participation and remedy.
18. Access to environmental information has two dimensions. First, States should
regularly collect, update and disseminate environmental information, including information
about: the quality of the environment, including air and water; pollution, waste, chemicals
and other potentially harmful substances introduced into the environment; threatened and
actual environmental impacts on human health and well-being; and relevant laws and
policies. In particular, in situations involving imminent threat of harm to human health or
the environment, States must ensure that all information that would enable the public to
take protective measures is disseminated immediately to all affected persons, regardless of
whether the threats have natural or human causes.
19. Second, States should provide affordable, effective and timely access to
environmental information held by public authorities, upon the request of any person or
association, without the need to show a legal or other interest. Grounds for refusal of a
request should be set out clearly and construed narrowly, in light of the public interest in
favour of disclosure. States should also provide guidance to the public on how to obtain
Framework principle 8
To avoid undertaking or authorizing actions with environmental impacts that interfere with the full enjoyment of human rights, States should require the prior assessment of the possible environmental impacts of proposed projects and policies, including their potential effects on the enjoyment of human rights.
20. Prior assessment of the possible environmental impacts of proposed projects and
policies is generally required by national laws, and the elements of effective environmental
assessment are widely understood: the assessment should be undertaken as early as possible
in the decision-making process for any proposal that is likely to have significant effects on
the environment; the assessment should provide meaningful opportunities for the public to
participate, should consider alternatives to the proposal, and should address all potential
12 See Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 19; International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, art. 19.
environmental impacts, including transboundary effects and cumulative effects that may
occur as a result of the interaction of the proposal with other activities; the assessment
should result in a written report that clearly describes the impacts; and the assessment and
the final decision should be subject to review by an independent body. The procedure
should also provide for monitoring of the proposal as implemented, to assess its actual
impacts and the effectiveness of protective measures.13
21. To protect against interference with the full enjoyment of human rights, the
assessment of environmental impacts should also examine the possible effects of the
environmental impacts of proposed projects and policies on the enjoyment of all relevant
rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, housing and culture. As part of that
assessment, the procedure should examine whether the proposal will comply with
obligations of non-discrimination (framework principle 3), applicable domestic laws and
international agreements (framework principles 11 and 13) and the obligations owed to
those who are particularly vulnerable to environmental harm (framework principles 14 and
15). The assessment procedure itself must comply with human rights obligations, including
by providing public information about the assessment and making the assessment and the
final decision publicly available (framework principle 7), facilitating public participation by
those who may be affected by the proposed action (framework principle 9), and providing
for effective legal remedies (framework principle 10).
22. Business enterprises should conduct human rights impact assessments in accordance
with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide that businesses
“should identify and assess any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with
which they may be involved either through their own activities or as a result of their
business relationships”, include “meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups
and other relevant stakeholders”, “integrate the findings from their impact assessments
across relevant internal functions and processes, and take appropriate action” (see Guiding
Framework principle 9
States should provide for and facilitate public participation in decision- making related to the environment, and take the views of the public into account in the decision-making process.
23. The right of everyone to take part in the government of their country and in the
conduct of public affairs 14 includes participation in decision-making related to the
environment. Such decision-making includes the development of policies, laws,
regulations, projects and activities. Ensuring that these environmental decisions take into
account the views of those who are affected by them increases public support, promotes
sustainable development and helps to protect the enjoyment of rights that depend on a safe,
clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
24. To be effective, public participation must be open to all members of the public who
may be affected and occur early in the decision-making process. States should provide for
the prior assessment of the impacts of proposals that may significantly affect the
environment, and ensure that all relevant information about the proposal and the decision-
making process is made available to the affected public in an objective, understandable,
timely and effective manner (see framework principles 7 and 8).
25. With respect to the development of policies, laws and regulations, drafts should be
publicly available and the public should be given opportunities to comment directly or
13 United Nations Environment Programme, Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic
Environmental Assessment: Towards an Integrated Approach (2004), p. 42.
14 See Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 21; International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, art. 25.
through representative bodies. With respect to proposals for specific projects or activities,
States should inform the affected public of their opportunities to participate at an early
stage of the decision-making process and provide them with relevant information, including
information about: the proposed project or activity and its possible impacts on human rights
and the environment; the range of possible decisions; and the decision-making procedure to
be followed, including the time schedule for comments and questions and the time and
place of any public hearings.
26. States must provide members of the public with an adequate opportunity to express
their views, and take additional steps to facilitate the participation of women and of
members of marginalized communities (framework principle 14). States must ensure that
the relevant authorities take into account the expressed views of the public in making their
final decisions, that they explain the justifications for the decisions and that the decisions
and explanations are made public.
Framework principle 10
States should provide for access to effective remedies for violations of human rights and domestic laws relating to the environment.
27. The obligations of States to provide for access to judicial and other procedures for
effective remedies for violations of human rights15 encompass remedies for violations of
human rights relating to the environment. States must therefore provide for effective
remedies for violations of the obligations set out in these framework principles, including
those relating to the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly
(framework principle 5), access to environmental information (framework principle 7) and
public participation in environmental decision-making (framework principle 9).
28. In addition, in connection with the obligations to establish, maintain and enforce
substantive environmental standards (framework principles 11 and 12), each State should
ensure that individuals have access to effective remedies against private actors, as well as
government authorities, for failures to comply with the laws of the State relating to the
29. To provide for effective remedies, States should ensure that individuals have access
to judicial and administrative procedures that meet basic requirements, including that the
procedures: (a) are impartial, independent, affordable, transparent and fair; (b) review
claims in a timely manner; (c) have the necessary expertise and resources; (d) incorporate a
right of appeal to a higher body; and (e) issue binding decisions, including for interim
measures, compensation, restitution and reparation, as necessary to provide effective
remedies for violations. The procedures should be available for claims of imminent and
foreseeable as well as past and current violations. States should ensure that decisions are
made public and that they are promptly and effectively enforced.
30. States should provide guidance to the public about how to seek access to these
procedures, and should help to overcome obstacles to access such as language, illiteracy,
expense and distance. Standing should be construed broadly, and States should recognize
the standing of indigenous peoples and other communal landowners to bring claims for
violations of their collective rights. All those pursuing remedies must be protected against
reprisals, including threats and violence. States should protect against baseless lawsuits
aimed at intimidating victims and discouraging them from pursuing remedies.
15 See, for example, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 8; International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, art. 2 (3).
Framework principle 11
States should establish and maintain substantive environmental standards that are non-discriminatory, non-retrogressive and otherwise respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
31. To protect against environmental harm and to take necessary measures for the full
realization of human rights that depend on the environment, States must establish, maintain
and enforce effective legal and institutional frameworks for the enjoyment of a safe, clean,
healthy and sustainable environment. Such frameworks should include substantive
environmental standards, including with respect to air quality, the global climate,
freshwater quality, marine pollution, waste, toxic substances, protected areas, conservation
and biological diversity.
32. Ideally, environmental standards would be set and implemented at levels that would
prevent all environmental harm from human sources and ensure a safe, clean, healthy and
sustainable environment. However, limited resources may prevent the immediate
realization of the rights to health, food, water and other economic, social and cultural rights.
The obligation of States to achieve progressively the full realization of these rights by all
appropriate means 16 requires States to take deliberate, concrete and targeted measures
towards that goal, but States have some discretion in deciding which means are appropriate
in light of available resources.17 Similarly, human rights bodies applying civil and political
rights, such as the rights to life and to private and family life, have held that States have
some discretion to determine appropriate levels of environmental protection, taking into
account the need to balance the goal of preventing all environmental harm with other social
33. This discretion is not unlimited. One constraint is that decisions as to the
establishment and implementation of appropriate levels of environmental protection must
always comply with obligations of non-discrimination (framework principle 3). Another
constraint is the strong presumption against retrogressive measures in relation to the
progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights.19 Other factors that should
be taken into account in assessing whether environmental standards otherwise respect,
promote and fulfil human rights include the following:
(a) The standards should result from a procedure that itself complies with human
rights obligations, including those relating to the rights of freedom of expression, freedom
of association and peaceful assembly, information, participation and remedy (framework
(b) The standard should take into account and, to the extent possible, be
consistent with all relevant international environmental, health and safety standards, such as
those promulgated by the World Health Organization;
(c) The standard should take into account the best available science. However,
the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used to justify postponing effective and
proportionate measures to prevent environmental harm, especially when there are threats of
serious or irreversible damage. 20 States should take precautionary measures to protect
against such harm;
16 See International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 2 (1).
17 See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 3 (1990) on the
nature of States parties’ obligations.
18 See, for example, European Court of Human Rights, Hatton and others v. United Kingdom (application No. 36022/97), judgment of 8 July 2003, para. 98. See also Rio Declaration on
Environment and Development, principle 11.
19 See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 3, para. 9.
20 See Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principle 15.
(d) The standard must comply with all relevant human rights obligations. For
example, in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child must be a primary
(e) Finally, the standard must not strike an unjustifiable or unreasonable balance
between environmental protection and other social goals, in light of its effects on the full
enjoyment of human rights.22
Framework principle 12
States should ensure the effective enforcement of their environmental standards against public and private actors.
34. Governmental authorities must comply with the relevant environmental standards in
their own operations, and they must also monitor and effectively enforce compliance with
the standards by preventing, investigating, punishing and redressing violations of the
standards by private actors as well as governmental authorities. In particular, States must
regulate business enterprises to protect against human rights abuses resulting from
environmental harm and to provide for remedies for such abuses. States should implement
training programmes for law enforcement and judicial officers to enable them to understand
and enforce environmental laws, and they should take effective steps to prevent corruption
from undermining the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws.
35. In accordance with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the
responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights includes the responsibility to
avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through environmental
harm, to address such impacts when they occur and to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse
human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by
their business relationships. Businesses should comply with all applicable environmental
laws, issue clear policy commitments to meet their responsibility to respect human rights
through environmental protection, implement human rights due diligence processes
(including human rights impact assessments) to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for
how they address their environmental impacts on human rights, and enable the remediation
of any adverse environmental human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute.
Framework principle 13
States should cooperate with each other to establish, maintain and enforce effective international legal frameworks in order to prevent, reduce and remedy transboundary and global environmental harm that interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights.
36. The obligation of States to cooperate to achieve universal respect for, and
observance of, human rights23 requires States to work together to address transboundary and
global threats to human rights. Transboundary and global environmental harm can have
severe effects on the full enjoyment of human rights, and international cooperation is
21 See Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 3 (1).
22 For example, a decision to allow massive oil pollution in the pursuit of economic development could
not be considered reasonable in light of its disastrous effects on the enjoyment of the rights to life,
health, food and water. See African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Social and
Economic Rights Action Centre and Centre for Economic and Social Rights v. Nigeria,
communication No. 155/96 (2001).
23 See Charter of the United Nations, arts. 55–56; International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, art. 2 (1).
necessary to address such harm. States have entered into agreements on many international
environmental problems, including climate change, ozone depletion, transboundary air
pollution, marine pollution, desertification and the conservation of biodiversity.
37. The obligation of international cooperation does not require every State to take
exactly the same actions. The responsibilities that are necessary and appropriate for each
State will depend in part on its situation, and agreements between States may appropriately
tailor their commitments to take account of their respective capabilities and challenges.
Multilateral environmental agreements often include different requirements for States in
different economic situations, and provide for technical and financial assistance from
developed States to other States.
38. Once their obligations have been defined, however, States must comply with them in
good faith. No State should ever seek to withdraw from any of its international obligations
to protect against transboundary or global environmental harm. States should continually
monitor whether their existing international obligations are sufficient. When those
obligations and commitments prove to be inadequate, States should quickly take the
necessary steps to strengthen them, bearing in mind that the lack of full scientific certainty
should not be used to justify postponing effective and proportionate measures to ensure a
safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
39. States must also comply with their human rights obligations relating to the
environment in the context of other international legal frameworks, such as agreements for
economic cooperation and international finance mechanisms. For example, they should
ensure that agreements facilitating international trade and investment support, rather than
hinder, the ability of States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and to ensure a safe,
clean, healthy and sustainable environment. International financial institutions, as well as
State agencies that provide international assistance, should adopt and implement
environmental and social safeguards that are consistent with human rights obligations,
including by: (a) requiring the environmental and social assessment of every proposed
project and programme; (b) providing for effective public participation; (c) providing for
effective procedures to enable those who may be harmed to pursue remedies; (d) requiring
legal and institutional protections against environmental and social risks; and (e) including
specific protections for indigenous peoples and those in vulnerable situations.
Framework principle 14
States should take additional measures to protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable to, or at particular risk from, environmental harm, taking into account their needs, risks and capacities.
40. As the Human Rights Council has recognized, while the human rights implications
of environmental damage are felt by individuals and communities around the world, the
consequences are felt most acutely by those segments of the population that are already in
vulnerable situations.24 Persons may be vulnerable because they are unusually susceptible
to certain types of environmental harm, or because they are denied their human rights, or
both. Vulnerability to environmental harm reflects the “interface between exposure to the
physical threats to human well-being and the capacity of people and communities to cope
with those threats”.25
41. Those who are at greater risk from environmental harm for either or both reasons
often include women, children, persons living in poverty, members of indigenous peoples
and traditional communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic, racial or other
24 See Human Rights Council resolution 34/20. 25 United Nations Environment Programme, Global Environment Outlook 3 (2002), p. 302.
minorities and displaced persons.26 The many examples of potential vulnerability include
(a) In most households, women are primarily responsible for water and hygiene.
When sources of water are polluted, they are at greater risk of exposure, and if they travel
longer distances to find safer sources, they are at greater risk of assault (see A/HRC/33/49).
Nevertheless, they are typically excluded from decision-making procedures on water and
(b) Children are vulnerable for many reasons, including that they are developing
physically and that they are less resistant to many types of environmental harm. Of the
approximately 6 million deaths of children under the age of 5 in 2015, more than 1.5
million could have been prevented through the reduction of environmental risks. Moreover,
exposure to pollution and other environmental harms in childhood can have lifelong
consequences, including by increasing the likelihood of cancer and other diseases (see
(c) Persons living in poverty often lack adequate access to safe water and
sanitation, and they are more likely to burn wood, coal and other solid fuels for heating and
cooking, causing household air pollution;
(d) Indigenous peoples and other traditional communities that rely on their
ancestral territories for their material and cultural existence face increasing pressure from
Governments and business enterprises seeking to exploit their resources. They are usually
marginalized from decision-making processes and their rights are often ignored or violated;
(e) Older persons may be vulnerable to environmental harm because they are
more susceptible to heat, pollutants and vector-borne diseases, among other factors;
(f) The vulnerability of persons with disabilities to natural disasters and extreme
weather is often exacerbated by barriers to receiving emergency information in an
accessible format, and to accessing means of transport, shelter and relief;
(g) Because racial, ethnic and other minorities are often marginalized and lack
political power, their communities often become the sites of disproportionate numbers of
waste dumps, refineries, power plants and other polluting facilities, exposing them to higher
levels of air pollution and other types of environmental harm;
(h) Natural disasters and other types of environmental harm often cause internal
displacement and transboundary migration, which can exacerbate vulnerabilities and lead to
additional human rights violations and abuses (see A/66/285 and A/67/299).
42. To protect the rights of those who are particularly vulnerable to or at risk from
environmental harm, States should ensure that their laws and policies take into account the
ways that some parts of the population are more susceptible to environmental harm, and the
barriers some face to exercising their human rights related to the environment.
43. For example, States should develop disaggregated data on the specific effects of
environmental harm on different segments of the population, conducting additional research
as necessary, to provide a basis for ensuring that their laws and policies adequately protect
against such harm. States should take effective measures to raise the awareness of
environmental threats among those persons who are most at risk. In monitoring and
reporting on environmental issues, States should provide detailed information on the threats
to, and status of, the most vulnerable. Assessments of the environmental and human rights
impacts of proposed projects and policies must include a careful examination of the impacts
on the most vulnerable, in particular. In the case of indigenous peoples and local
communities, assessments should be in accord with the guidelines adopted by the
Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.27
26 Many persons are vulnerable and subject to discrimination along more than one dimension, such as
children living in poverty or indigenous women.
27 The Akwé: Kon Voluntary Guidelines for the Conduct of Cultural, Environmental and Social Impact
Assessment regarding Developments Proposed to Take Place on, or which are Likely to Impact on,
44. States should develop environmental education, awareness and information
programmes to overcome obstacles such as illiteracy, minority languages, distance from
government agencies and limited access to information technology, in order to ensure that
everyone has effective access to such programmes and to environmental information in
forms that are understandable to them. States should also take steps to ensure the equitable
and effective participation of all affected segments of the population in relevant decision-
making, taking into account the characteristics of the vulnerable or marginalized
45. States should ensure that their legal and institutional frameworks for environmental
protection effectively protect those who are in vulnerable situations. They must comply
with their obligations of non-discrimination (framework principle 3), as well as any other
obligations relevant to specific groups. For example, any environmental policies or
measures that may affect children’s rights must ensure that the best interests of children are
a primary consideration.28
46. In developing and implementing international environmental agreements, States
should include strategies and programmes to identify and protect those vulnerable to the
threats addressed in the agreements.29 Domestic and international environmental standards
should be set at levels that protect against harm to vulnerable segments of the population,
and States should use appropriate indicators and benchmarks to assess implementation.
When measures to safeguard against or mitigate adverse impacts are impossible or
ineffective, States must facilitate access to effective remedies for violations and abuses of
the rights of those most vulnerable to environmental harm.
Framework principle 15
States should ensure that they comply with their obligations to indigenous peoples and members of traditional communities, including by:
(a) Recognizing and protecting their rights to the lands, territories and
resources that they have traditionally owned, occupied or used;
(b) Consulting with them and obtaining their free, prior and informed
consent before relocating them or taking or approving any other measures that may
affect their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Respecting and protecting their traditional knowledge and practices in
relation to the conservation and sustainable use of their lands, territories and
(d) Ensuring that they fairly and equitably share the benefits from activities
relating to their lands, territories or resources.
47. Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to environmental harm because of
their close relationship with the natural ecosystems on their ancestral territories. The United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour
Organization (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), as well as
other human rights and conservation agreements, set out obligations of States in relation to
the rights of indigenous peoples. Those obligations include, but are not limited to, the four
highlighted here, which have particular relevance to the human rights of indigenous peoples
in relation to the environment.
Sacred Sites and on Lands and Waters Traditionally Occupied or Used by Indigenous and Local
28 See Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 3 (1).
29 See, for example, Minamata Convention on Mercury, art. 16 (1) (a), annex C.
48. Traditional (sometimes called “local”) communities that do not self-identify as
indigenous may also have close relationships to their ancestral territories and depend
directly on nature for their material needs and cultural life. Examples include the
descendants of Africans brought to Latin America as slaves, who escaped and formed tribal
communities. To protect the human rights of the members of such traditional communities,
States owe them obligations as well. While those obligations are not always identical to
those owed to indigenous peoples, they should include the obligations described below (see
A/HRC/34/49, paras. 52–58).
49. First, States must recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples and
traditional communities to the lands, territories and resources that they have traditionally
owned, occupied or used, including those to which they have had access for their
subsistence and traditional activities.30 The recognition of the rights must be conducted with
due respect for the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the peoples or
communities concerned. 31 Even without formal recognition of property rights and
delimitation and demarcation of boundaries, States must protect against actions that might
affect the value, use or enjoyment of the lands, territories or resources, including by
instituting adequate penalties against those who intrude on or use them without
50. Second, States must ensure the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples
and traditional communities in decision-making on the entire spectrum of matters that
affect their lives. States have obligations to consult with them when considering legislative
or administrative measures which may affect them directly, before undertaking or
permitting any programmes for the exploration or exploitation of resources pertaining to
their lands or territories and when considering their capacity to alienate their lands or
territories or otherwise transfer their rights outside their own community.33 States should
assess the environmental and social impacts of proposed measures and ensure that all
relevant information is provided to them in understandable and accessible forms
(framework principles 7–8). Consultations with indigenous peoples and traditional
communities should be in accordance with their customs and traditions, and occur early in
the decision-making process (framework principle 9).
51. The free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples or traditional
communities is generally necessary before the adoption or implementation of any laws,
policies or measures that may affect them, and in particular before the approval of any
project affecting their lands, territories or resources, including the extraction or exploitation
of mineral, water or other resources, or the storage or disposal of hazardous materials.34
Relocation of indigenous peoples or traditional communities may take place only with their
free, prior and informed consent and after agreement on just and fair compensation and,
where possible, with the option of return.35
52. Third, States should respect and protect the knowledge and practices of indigenous
peoples and traditional communities in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of
their lands, territories and resources.36 Indigenous peoples and traditional communities have
the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity
of their lands, territories and resources, and to receive assistance from States for such
30 See ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), arts. 14–15; United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, arts. 26–27.
31 See United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, art. 26 (3). 32 See ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), art. 18.
33 Ibid., arts. 6, 15 and 17.
34 See United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, arts. 19, 29 (2) and 32. See also
Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits
Arising from Their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, arts. 6–7 (consent required
for access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge).
35 See ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), art. 16; United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, art. 10.
36 See Convention on Biological Diversity, arts. 8 (j) and 10 (c).
conservation and protection.37 States must comply with the obligations of consultation and
consent with respect to the establishment of protected areas in the lands and territories of
indigenous peoples and traditional communities, and ensure that they can participate fully
and effectively in the governance of such protected areas.38
53. Fourth, States must ensure that indigenous peoples and traditional communities
affected by extraction activities, the use of their traditional knowledge and genetic
resources, or other activities in relation to their lands, territories or resources fairly and
equitably share the benefits arising from such activities.39 Consultation procedures should
establish the benefits that the affected indigenous peoples and traditional communities are
to receive, in a manner consistent with their own priorities. Finally, States must provide for
effective remedies for violations of their rights (framework principle 10), and just and fair
redress for harm resulting from any activities affecting their lands, territories or resources.40
They have the right to restitution or, if this is not possible, just, fair and equitable
compensation for their lands, territories and resources that have been taken, used or
damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.41
Framework principle 16
States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in the actions they take to address environmental challenges and pursue sustainable development.
54. The obligations of States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights apply when
States are adopting and implementing measures to address environmental challenges and to
pursue sustainable development. That a State is attempting to prevent, reduce or remedy
environmental harm, seeking to achieve one or more of the Sustainable Development
Goals, or taking actions in response to climate change does not excuse it from complying
with its human rights obligations.42
55. Pursuing environmental and development goals in accordance with human rights
norms not only promotes human dignity, equality and freedom, the benefits of fulfilling all
human rights. It also helps to inform and strengthen policymaking. Ensuring that those
most affected can obtain information, freely express their views and participate in the
decision-making process, for example, makes policies more legitimate, coherent, robust and
sustainable. Most important, a human rights perspective helps to ensure that environmental
and development policies improve the lives of the human beings who depend on a safe,
clean, healthy and sustainable environment — which is to say, all human beings.
37 See United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, art. 29 (1).
38 See ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), art. 15 (1).
39 Ibid., art. 15 (2); Convention on Biological Diversity, art. 8 (j); Nagoya Protocol, art. 5; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought
and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, art. 16 (g).
40 See United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, art. 32 (3).
41 Ibid., art. 28.
42 See Paris Agreement, eleventh preambular para.