On March 2, 2018, Professor John H. Knox, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, presented his final report, "Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment" to the U.N. Human Rights Council. The culmination of five years of work, the Special Rapporteur's report sets out the principles for understanding and implementing human rights obligations relating to the environment. These principles are drawn from international treaties and the decisions of human rights bodies that either issue binding decisions or have the authority to issue interpretations of human rights law.
The report identifies these fundamental principles:
- States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
- States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in order to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
- 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.
- 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.
- States should respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in relation to environmental matters.
- States should provide for education and public awareness on environmental matters.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- States should provide for access to effective remedies for violations of human rights and domestic laws relating to the environment.
- States should establish and maintain substantive environmental standards that are non-discriminatory, non-retrogressive and otherwise respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
- States should ensure the effective enforcement of their environmental standards against public and private actors.
- 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.
- 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.
- States should ensure that they comply with their obligations to indigenous peoples and members of traditional communities.
- States should respect, protect and fulfill human rights in the actions they take to address environmental challenges and pursue sustainable development.
This report advances the recognition of the intersectionality of environmental and human rights; moreover, we expect that it will influence the development of substantive environmental rights internationally. We also expect that it will support the litigation efforts of parties seeking to compel the United States to remedy violations of fundamental rights caused by its failure to adequately address climate change.