10 Jul 2020

We're calling for a healthy planet to be a human right. Here's why...

Our most ambitious campaign ever aims to fundamentally transform humanity’s relationship with nature – for the benefit of all. Act now by signing our petition to the UN below

1planet1right.org © BirdLife International
1planet1right.org © BirdLife International
By BirdLife International

It’s no secret: our natural world is in terrible shape. Our unsustainable system is causing climate chaos, mass extinction of species, pollution and human suffering.

As COVID-19 reminds us, the destruction of nature harms people directly. Lest we forget, we are part of nature, and we need a healthy planet to survive together. We, as do all other living beings, deserve the right to a healthy natural world.

Society must build back better after this crisis; governments cannot continue business as usual. We now need a Green Recovery that recognises the importance of nature, that tackles the climate and biodiversity crises simultaneously, and kick-starts an ambitious decade of systemic change that builds resilient economies, healthy communities and a thriving natural world.

We must completely change the way we treat our home. Human rights movements have a long and successful track record at transforming society and, with governments meeting in September to discuss the fate of our planet at key UN meetings, there has never been a greater need for action.

We call on the UN to add the right to a healthy natural environment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just as the original Declaration was forged from the ashes of humanity’s last global crisis, World War II, we can emerge from today’s crisis with a symbolic and decisive political change. One that shows to the world that our solutions are in nature, and that systemic change must happen, fast.

It’s an ambitious goal, but an achievable one, and here’s how…


What exactly do we want, and when?

A universal human right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies and determined by sustainability, science, and traditional indigenous knowledge. 

We call on the UN to:

  • Vote to include the right to a healthy natural environment at the UN Human Rights Council, in the UN General Assembly and as an urgent topic at the UN Summit on Biodiversity in September 2020.
  • Ultimately include the right to a healthy natural environment in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by December 2023 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration by the UN General Assembly.

Why a human right?

We’re used to talking about saving species and ecosystems, but the twin biodiversity and climate crises facing our planet already violate and jeopardise our human rights. Because of environmental harms, over nine million people die prematurely every year and hundreds of millions of people suffer illnesses. Climate change impacts – more frequent and intense storms, droughts, wildfires and rising sea levels – threaten the health, well-being and dignity of billions of people. Michele Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, referring to climate change, recently warned that “the world has never seen a human rights threat of this scope.” It’s high time the world’s governments woke up to the gravity of the environmental situation and acted accordingly.

Rights-based approaches have a strong history of catalysing change – such as the campaign to abolish slavery, the women’s rights movement, and the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.

What will it achieve in practice?

A new human right is far from just a symbolic gesture. Once a human right is ratified through the UN policy machinery, it’s an immense catalyst for international and national legal change as member states improve their environmental policies to fulfil the right, which would see sweeping improvements to wildlife, ecosystems and the lives of people. It would also make additional resources available to assist developing countries in protecting the environment, and support environmental human rights defenders.

Why are we focusing on humans?

Human society is pulling itself from the web of life, and breaking strands: we’re losing our connection to the natural world at the same time as we are devastating it. Yet humans are nature; what protects nature, protects humans. So we approach this campaign with a deep recognition that supporting nature’s rights is supporting human rights, and environmental rights defenders are de facto human rights defenders. As such, this anthropogenic standpoint also completely supports, and is compatible with, an ecocentric viewpoint, including movements to protect inherent rights of nature (such as the Whanganui River in New Zealand which is now legally treated as a living entity).

With the current gaps in national and international law, a human rights approach has the largest potential for the global, systemic change needed to protect life on Earth. The COVID-19 response has also shown that change can happen fast, when there is the political will, and when humans are in immediate danger, compared to the slow response to climate and biodiversity crises where threats may seem far off to some.

What’s the wider context?

This umbrella campaign forms part of a wider push to transform international climate and nature policy at the beginning of the UN Decade of Action, including adopting a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, a Green Recovery from COVID-19, tackling illegal wildlife trade, reforming agricultural policy, reversing deforestation, and more. Through calling for a universal right to healthy nature, the campaign also aims to ensure that everyone, from all walks of life and all areas of the world, is able to access and benefit from nature. One Planet One Right is also an open call to the rest of the world’s civil society for support; the inclusion of the right to a healthy natural environment is a push we should all be behind if we are to ensure our survival and wellbeing, and save our planet.

What should I do next?

Spread the word, quickly! Sign and share the petition to make it a UN-recognised human right to live on a healthy planet. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s true: to emerge from these crises, to ensure our future and that of the planet, we need to entirely transform humanity’s relationship with nature. This human right helps make that happen.