For millions of years, nature has remained man`s biggest benefactor. This unequal partnership between two partners which has seen one feed off the other for years without giving anything in return has come under considerable strain in the last few decades.
A considerable strain
Man`s relationship with nature is as old as any other. From the beginning, when man found himself surrounded by nature, he has had to depend on it for virtually everything.
This dependence which has hardly been mutual has seen man depend on nature for food, fuels, pharmaceuticals and every other thing he has needed on what has been an eventful journey.
The unequal partnership has been a source of considerable stress.
The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment
On October 8,2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 48/13 recognizing that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.
More than anything, the resolution was a testament to the fact that the human reality as it is known is undergoing fundamental changes.
As man`s experience has grown out of many years of existence, the level of dependence on a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for food, water and general well-being has become easier to spot.
All over the world, more than 150 countries recognize and protect the right to a healthy environment through their constitutions, national laws, judiciaries or ratification of international instruments.
In late July, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote on a draft resolution recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
By recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the General Assembly could catalyze more ambitious, coherent and coordinated action to protect the environment. When the UN General Assembly recognized the rights to water and sanitation, this much was achieved.
Because human rights are inalienable to man, they are not the creation of any government. No government has the right to create human rights. They can only be recognized by governments which can give them teeth using the instruments of law and the state.
There is no doubt that those who have the right to water and sanitation must also be recognized as having the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
They necessarily go hand in hand and can go a really long way in reaffirming the dignity of men as should be lived. The need to advance the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment cannot be overemphasized.
Unfortunately, continuing harmful practices, insufficient action, and inaction by Government and other duty-bearers with respect to protection of the environment threaten the progress needed to protect the environment for all people.
The irony of environmental injustice
The irony of environmental injustice is that those who have contributed the least to environmental degradation are often those at the highest risk of experiencing its worst human rights impacts.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 published by Germanwatch which analyses and ranks to what extent countries and regions have been affected by the impacts of climate-related extreme weather events (storms, floods, heatwaves etc), the ten countries affected most in 2019 were Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Bahamas, Japan, Malawi, Islamic Republic of Japan, India, South Sudan, Niger, Bolivia. For the period from 2000 to 2019, Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti ranked highest.
With the exception of Japan, the connection between all the countries on the list is that they count among the poorest and most unequal countries in the world.
Environmental degradation disproportionately affects the poor, women and girls, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and children, among others.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recognized that for people in vulnerable situations, a rights-based and inclusive approach to environmental action can make a real difference in their lives while also supporting better environmental outcomes.
Recognizing, this all-important right will do the environment and those who benefit therefrom a world of good.