The UN Human Rights Council on Friday recognised access to a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right, formally adding its weight to the global fight against climate change and its devastating consequences.
The vote passed with overwhelming support, despite criticism in the lead-up from some countries, notably the United States and Britain.
“This has life-changing potential in a world where the global environmental crisis causes more than nine million premature deaths every year,” said David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
The text, proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland, was passed with 43 votes in favor and four abstentions from Russia, India, China and Japan, prompting a rare burst of applause in the Geneva forum.
Britain, which was among the critics of the proposal in recent intense negotiations, voted in favor in a surprise, last-minute move. The United States did not vote since it is not currently a member of the 47-member Council.
Costa Rica’s ambassador, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, said the decision will “send a powerful message to communities around the world struggling with climate hardship that they are not alone.”
Another proposal led by the Marshall Islands to create a new special rapporteur on climate change was also approved by the Council on Friday.