This year, World Environment Day comes on the heels of the international meeting Stockholm+50, which marked fifty years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment. Five decades since this first global conference on the environment, the world is facing a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. We are witnessing an absurd paradox, where consistent and dire warnings from scientists are issued in parallel with States entrenching the policies which have led us to impeding catastrophe.
At the same time, countless individuals and organizations resist this status quo and are confronting the urgency of the situation. Human rights defenders, like Bernardo Caal Xol in Guatemala, challenge the operations of companies that pollute and degrade water resources. Franciscans in Brazil have raised awareness on the rights of victims seeking justice for environmental harms caused by mining disasters. They do so at great risk: of the at least 358 human rights defenders killed worldwide in 2021, nearly 60 percent worked on land, environmental or Indigenous rights.
Nevertheless, these and other initiatives have been recognized and echoed throughout the UN system, leading towards significant actions for greater environmental protection. For example, in October 2021, the Human Rights Council established the mandate for a Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights, and recognized the right to a healthy environment. The third draft of the legally binding instrument on business activities and human rights also called on States Parties to undertake environmental and climate change impact assessments.
Moreover, support for the right to a healthy environment has been reiterated by UN agencies, experts, and by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, including in the 2021 Our Common Agenda report and most recently at the Stockholm+50 meeting, where he urged “countries to embrace the human right to a clean, healthy environment for all people, everywhere […].”
Franciscans International has supported these important voices and efforts, alongside that of our Franciscan and secular partners, through advocacy at the UN. This has recently included an event held in parallel with the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment underscored that recognition of the right to a healthy environment “should be a catalyst for changes at the constitutional level, the legislative level, and most importantly for changes for actions on the ground to deliver clearer air, cleaner water […] and non-toxic environments for every person on this planet.”
On World Environment Day, we stand in solidarity with and celebrate individuals and communities globally who not only already face the adverse impacts of environmental degradation and climate change, but also work tirelessly to challenge the policies and vested interests which have facilitated the current crisis. We further call on the UN General Assembly to reaffirm the recognition of the right to a healthy environment, and for States to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for all.