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Government to co-sponsor a UN resolution recognising a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment

The Government has announced that it will co-sponsor a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which recognises a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.


The resolution was first adopted at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council which took place from 13th September to 8th October. This session represented the first occasion that the resolution contained an explicit recognition of a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.


Welcoming the decision, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan T.D., said: “Co-sponsoring this resolution, which recognises a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, demonstrates Ireland’s support for climate mitigation and adaptation around the world. It also reinforces climate mitigation and adaptation here in Ireland. Implicit in our own Programme for Government is ensuring the quality of our environment.


“Recognising this fundamental right is especially important now. The world’s attention is rightly focused on climate action, as we’ll see during COP26 in Glasgow shortly. Closer to home, we will launch Climate Action Plan 2021 over the coming weeks. It will set out the practical measures we need to take to meet our own climate targets.”


 The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney T.D., also expressed his support for the resolution:


“I am pleased Ireland continues to support this resolution. This important statement of rights adds impetus to our international effort to address urgent environmental and climate issues. The resolution also helps to strengthen the conditions for the effective investment of Ireland’s climate and environmental finance contributions. These contributions support and drive critical adaptation work in the countries most affected today by the climate and biodiversity crisis.”







Recent developments at the UNHRC


The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which adopted the aforementioned resolution, is an inter-governmental body within the wider United Nations system. It is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council can adopt resolutions by consensus or by recorded vote, with only Council members entitled to vote. While Ireland is currently not a member of the UNHRC, it can express its support for initiatives through co-sponsorship. While Human Rights Council resolutions are not legally binding they are considered the political expression of the views of its member and observer states.


Ireland (together with EU27) is a traditional co-sponsor of the consensual UNHRC resolution concerning the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. At HRC46 last March, Ireland signed a Joint Statement (JST) which noted: “increasing calls for a global recognition of such a right [to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment] from States, UN Representatives, experts and civil society” and committed to “engaging in an open, transparent and inclusive dialogue with all States and interested stakeholders on a possible international recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment”.


While civil society groups have strongly advocated for this mandate since 2010, pressure to move beyond the existing mandate has been steadily increasing (including in Ireland). In 2020, over 1,150 organisations from more than 100 countries signed a letter appealing to the Human Rights Council to recognise the right to a healthy environment without delay.


The Special Rapporteur has also been vocal and has communicated to the EU his disappointment that the EU has so far been silent. He argues that there is a gap in international human rights law, despite the right being “widely acknowledged at national and regional level”. According to the UN Special Rapporteur’s assessment, 156 out of 193 UN States (including Ireland) have already recognised the right, or elements, in their national legal systems. While there is no common EU position on recognition, no EU Member State has objected to the resolution. By 19th October, 24 EU Member States had co-sponsored the resolution: Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spin, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Sweden, Netherlands, and Belgium.





DECC (Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications) Press Office

Jim Breen; Gerry Kavanagh; Press Office: 087-6937580 /