Story | 16 Mar, 2017

IUCN welcomes first-ever UN report acknowledging healthy ecosystems as a human right

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, welcomed a recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Environment and Human Rights, Prof. John Knox, which highlights how biodiversity and ecosystems are essential to human rights. 

This is the first-ever UN report acknowledging that the loss of  biodiversity undermines human rights, for example by reducing agricultural and fisheries outputs, negatively affecting health or removing filters from the water cycle. By conserving biodiversity, states therefore also contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on food security, health and water, among others.

IUCN Director General Inger Andersen welcomed the report: “People have the right to benefit from nature for their livelihoods and for rewarding and dignified lives. This includes, for example, the right to food for all, for present and future generations, the right to water, the right to housing, the right to health and many other social, economic and cultural rights. All of these depend on functioning ecosystems and biodiversity,” she said, speaking at a UN Human Rights Council panel event last week.

IUCN has long been addressing the links between conserving biodiversity and achieving human rights. In 1994, the Union issued Caring for the Earth: A strategy for sustainable living, where it declared that “we have a right to the benefits of nature, but these will not be available unless we care for the systems that provide them.”

Through its work, such as the development of guidelines and policy frameworks for government engagement with indigenous peoples and local communities, IUCN highlights the threats from environmental change and degradation to those directly dependent on ecosystems. 

“IUCN offers a unique space for dialogue that brings together the conservation and human rights communities as well as governments and civil society,” said IUCN Senior Advisor on Social Policy, Gonzalo Oviedo at a plenary of the Human Rights Council. “We will be extremely pleased to continue to work with the UN Special Rapporteur and with the Human Rights Council to implement the recommendations of this report for the protection of human rights and the conservation of biodiversity.”

The UN report’s recognition of the link between human rights and biodiversity should promote collaboration between the conservation, human rights and development communities to achieve the objectives of sustainable development.

The report also called on states to recognise defenders of biodiversity as defenders of human rights. IUCN has been calling for increased efforts to protect environmental activists from the growing threats and persecution they face.