Environmental HealthEnvironmental Human RightsPublic Health

A Human Right to a Healthy Environment

What can Maryland learn from the 100+ countries that recognize and protect the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions? In her article, “The human right that benefits nature,” Katarina Zimmer summarizes the collective action of many countries to adopt the human right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, and how the countries have made use of this right. You can read the full article here.  

Individuals can inspire change

The story in Costa Rica begins with a 10 year old boy who with his family filed an appeal challenging the local government to stop using the streams as a garbage dump. A year later, the local courts sided with the boy and his family and required the local government to manage the residents’ waste appropriately. The judge’s assessment that “A clean and healthy environment is a very basis of human life, as are balanced ecosystems, biodiversity, and other elements of nature on which people depend.” This legal conclusion became the impetus to protect this right in the country’s constitution. 

The only way to grow a healthy economy is to have a healthful environment

It is inspiring to hear how 100+ countries have connected the dots that human health and a sustainable future are both dependent on a healthful environment. Costa Rica appears to be a success story in both protecting and enforcing this right while balancing development. 

Supports passing stronger laws and accountability in the courts

Katarina Zimmer writes. “In a worsening global environmental crisis, some legal scholars have argued that the right to a healthy environment acts as a crucial legal pathway to protecting the natural world, both by encouraging governments to pass stronger environmental laws and allowing courts to hold violators accountable. Especially when installed into constitutions, such rights are taken seriously by many judicial systems and become hard to undo, creating an enduring force counteracting the interests against protecting nature.”  

We expect the same to be true in Maryland. Amending our state constitution will not only fundamentally protect the right to a healthful environment but it will also support the efforts of our legislature in passing new environmental laws, our state in holding other states and private interests accountable, and citizens in holding the state accountable.  

Changing expectations and behaviors

Lastly but maybe most importantly, protecting the right to a healthful environment also has the opportunity to change expectations and behaviors. Katarina Zimmer reports that in Slovenia, this constitutional protection has influenced education and a focus on sustainability.

The Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights (MDEHR) is focused on passing a constitutional amendment to protect environmental human rights. An important part of our mission is to educate the public and our elected representatives, showing that protecting Maryland’s natural resources is critical for human health and for assuring a sustainable future in this state. Change begins in our minds and once that happens, action is sure to follow.  

Join the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights and sign up here for campaign updates.