22 Apr 2020

Our campaign to make a healthy natural environment a human right

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the BirdLife Partnership is launching a bold new campaign to add a new article to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to a healthy natural environment. Find out why this addition is so crucial and read our letter to the UN Secretary-general.

© Pexels
© Pexels
By BirdLife International

Sign the petition here: www.birdlife.org/healthyplanet

 

Today, in an open letter to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, BirdLife is marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by calling for the UN to take a bold and unprecedented step: declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right.

The letter, published in full below, calls on the UN, as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to add an ‘Article 31’ to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – enshrining a universal right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies, governed by sustainability and by scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights rose from the ashes of World War II, and mapped out for the first time the fundamental human rights that must be protected globally. Its 30 articles cover subjects such as torture, slavery and education, but crucially, nothing about preserving the environment – on which human and all life depends. If successful, this amendment would be the first addition since the milestone document was proclaimed in 1948.

“COVID-19 is the biggest global crisis since World War II. But whilst the pandemic is devastating, it also gives world leaders a chance, indeed an obligation, to transform society – to further protect our welfare and future generations”, says Patricia Zurita, CEO, BirdLife International. “Our planet’s health is our health. We humans rely on nature for our survival and sanity, but our actions have upset Earth’s natural balance.”

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We are in the grips of the twin climate and biodiversity crises, which have put over a million species at risk of extinction, and negatively impact human health, too. The current pandemic has its roots in habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade. And as with the climate and biodiversity crises, COVID-19 highlights once again the need and possibility for humanity to be bold, decisive and work together – quickly.

“There have been efforts to include a right to a healthy environment in the past”, says Melanie Heath, Director of Science and Policy, BirdLife International. “Today, we hope that the gravity of the pandemic is a strong enough wake-up call for the UN and world citizens to come together to restore nature and protect us from similar crises in the future.”

“Article 31 would be a gift to the world and future generations. And what more appropriate time to launch a manifesto for it than on Earth Day”, says Asunción Ruiz, CEO, SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain). “Instead of learning from the corona crisis, some leaders are cynically using it as an excuse to roll back environmental protection. Enshrining a healthy natural environment as a sacred human right will be an accomplishment that will benefit humanity for centuries to come, and is the only way to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The letter urgently calls for Article 31’s right to a healthy natural environment to be included on the Agenda of the UN General Assembly’s Summit on Biodiversity in September 2020, with the ultimate goal of its approval in December 2023, to mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration.

This letter forms part of a wider push to improve climate and nature policy at the end of the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and is an open call to the rest of the planet’s civil society for support; the inclusion of the right to a healthy natural environment is a task we should all be behind if we are to protect our welfare, survival and save our planet.

 

To find out more, and to sign our public petition to support Article 31, please visit: www.birdlife.org/healthyplanet

 

The letter in full:

 

To His Excellency 

Mr. António Guterres 

Secretary-General of the United Nations 

  

Today, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, as if the earth’s incessant rotation had slowed and stopped, coronavirus has created an unprecedented challenge. It connects us all in our fragility and the intimate connection we have with our planet and with nature. 

Whether confined at home or struggling to be distanced from each other in other ways, or heroically treating the ill and dying, or continuing to provide essential public services, all at personal peril – we all ask how have we come to this? 

That is why, at this epochal moment in human history, we need your leadership at the helm of our United Nations. The health of our planet, our ecosystems, our economies, indeed ourselves, cry out now for the General Assembly to recognize our universal right to live in a healthy natural environment – guaranteed by public policies and governed by sustainability and the best scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.

We invite you – we implore you – to call for an addition to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: to enshrine a new article 31, one that recognises the right to a healthy environment. Starting now, by putting it on the agenda of the UN General Assembly meeting in September as part of the Summit on Biodiversity, this could be achieved by December 2023, to mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration.  

We know that we will eventually, in grief and pain, and economically devastated, emerge from coronavirus. Once we reach the brink of the galloping twin crises of climate and biodiversity, however, we will not escape.  We can already see how our lack of care for the planet infringes other established universal human rights, such as the right to life, liberty and security.   

The science is clear now. In this critical “Decade of Action”, we must take the necessary decisive actions to save the ecosystems of the planet from collapse. The effects of global warming, and the loss of biodiversity on people's health and their economies, if left unaddressed, will be irreparable.

The initial declaration of human rights was forged out of the ashes of the conflagration of the Second World War.  Now we too must we rise to the challenge of finding a better way to conduct ourselves on our spinning home. The inspiring and determined Greta Thunberg, and the global youth movement she has pioneered, put the faces of the future viscerally on what it means to fail to secure the planet’s health. Indeed, we risk making a mockery of and undermining the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.  

We know that adding to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a profound act. Sacred even. But we are convinced that at this moment of crisis your courage and leadership is needed to address the collapse of ecosystems and the irreversible overheating of the planet which loom with such menace. Our magnificent Earth is equally sacred, and there has perhaps never been a more important moment to enshrine a human right that would oblige us all to respect it, for the benefit of all. 

At BirdLife International, a family of scientists, conservationists and local people from over 100 countries, founded in 1922 shortly after the League of Nations, we believe we share this historic responsibility.  As a United Nations-recognized civil society observer, we therefore humbly urge you to raise this issue at the next UN General Assembly in September.

We appreciate your urgent attention to this matter and stand ready to move forward and mobilize the planet’s citizens, across all continents, seas and oceans, to back such a vital call and support your leadership. 

 

Yours sincerely,

Patricia Zurita

Chief Executive of BirdLife International, on behalf of the BirdLife International Partnership