Environmental Human Rights

Restoring ecosystems starts with protecting fundamental rights

The UN celebrates World Environment Day every June 5 and it is a time to launch global efforts to protect the environment. This year’s event is focused on restoration of ecosystems around the world. The UN defines ecosystems as “the interaction between living organisms – plants, animals, people – with their surroundings. This includes nature, but also human-made systems such as cities and farms.” 

In a recent interview by Katarina Zimmer with John Knox, an expert on international environmental law and human rights law at Wake Forest University, Katarina writes “as the impact of our species on the natural world intensifies, so does the knowledge of our dependency on it: from crop-pollinating critters and wild fish populations that nourish millions, to ecosystems that inhale carbon emissions and filter air and water. These connections have bolstered a legal argument around the importance of a healthy environment – that is intact ecosystems and animal and plant populations, as well as a stable climate.” John Knox says that “a healthy environment is as important to human life as freedom of expression, health, work, education and other rights generally accepted under international human rights law.”  

In this interview, John Knox cites encouraging signs of support from the UN about the right to a healthy environment. “There is a great deal of support for it at the UN Human Rights Council. Many states have taken positions in favor of a resolution supporting the right to a healthy environment. Another sign of growing support is that several heads of major UN agencies have recently come out in favor of UN recognition; an example is Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environmental Programme. She recently issued a statement to the Human Rights Council on behalf of 15 agencies, expressing support for the right to a healthy environment to be adopted at the UN level.” You can read the full interview here. 

Advocating for recognizing and protecting a healthful environment and stable climate is part of the necessary work of restoring ecosystems. The Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights (MDEHR) recognizes the connection between environmental health and public health. MDEHR is advocating to create a legal foundation in our state constitution to protect our fundamental right to a healthful environment and a stable climate in Maryland. 

While we work at the state level, MDEHR recognizes that this work is part of a much larger effort globally.  We are encouraged by the recognition and action on behalf of this fundamental right to a healthful environment internationally, at the UN level, and in states across our own country. Six states currently protect this right and an additional fifteen states are currently pursuing adding a state constitutional amendment to protect the right to a healthful environment and a stable climate.

In recognition of World Environment Day, how will you take action locally?  Stand with the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights. Read and sign the pledge here.  Sign up for email updates about our campaign here, and follow MDEHR on Twitter and Instagram.