Relation between right to pollution free environment and human rights

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The Concept / Introduction

In the long evolution of the human race on this planet, a stage has been reached when, through the rapid acceleration of science and technology, we have acquired the power to transform our environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale.
The enjoyment of all human rights is closely linked to the environmental issue. Not only rights to life and health in the first place, but also other social, economic, cultural, as well as political and civil rights, can be fully enjoyed only in a sound environment. And certainly, to go to an extreme, they cannot be enjoyed at all if the environment becomes impaired beyond a certain critical level.
The whole of mankind could in such a case perish together with all its civilization, including human rights. The worse the environment becomes, the more impaired are human rights, and vice versa. That is the reason why there is the need for sustainable development which means in the first place, ecologically sound development of economies, science and technology, and all other fields is a sine qua non for both protection of the environment and further promotion of human rights.

Human right and Right to environment are not contradictory
Yet the links between human rights, health and environmental protection were apparent at least from the first international conference on the human environment, held in Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 16 th June 1972. Indeed, health has seemed to be the subject that bridges the two fields of environmental protection and human rights. At the Stockholm concluding session, the participants proclaimed that

“ Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. . . . Both aspects of mans environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights even the right to life itself ”

Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration established a foundation for linking human rights, health, and environmental protection, declaring that ----- “ Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being ”

Environmental protection is thus an essential instrument in the effort to secure the effective universal enjoyment of human rights. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, reflected this approach in his statement to the 57th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in 2001:

“Human rights cannot be secured in a degraded or polluted environment. The fundamental right to life is threatened by soil degradation and deforestation and by exposures to toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes and contaminated drinking water. Environmental conditions clearly help to determine the extent to which people enjoy their basic rights to life, health, adequate food and housing, and traditional livelihood and culture. It is time to recognize that those who pollute or destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature, but are violating human rights as well.”

In the above context, it is important to recognize our dependence on the earth’s natural resources. Natural resources such as air, water, and land are fundamental to all life forms: they are, much more than money and economic infrastructure, the base of our survival.

In India alone, around 70% of the population directly depends on land-based occupations, forests, wetlands and marine habitats, for basic subsistence requirements with regard to water, food, fuel, housing, fodder and medicine as also for ecological livelihoods & cultural sustenance

Climate change brought about by global warming, is already causing changes in weather patterns, threatening to submerge vast tracts of low-lying coastal areas and islands, and beginning to cause havoc to agricultural systems. Life, livelihoods, culture and society, are fundamental aspects of human existence – hence their maintenance and enhancement is a fundamental human right

Conversely, human rights violations of other kinds can lead to environmental destruction, for instance, displacement by social strife/war can cause environmental damage in areas of relocation; or breakdown in sustainable common property management. The manifestations of such violations present themselves through a loss of access to clean air and water; loss of access to productive land; loss of energy sources and biomass; loss of food and health security; social and economic marginalization; and physical displacement.

It is not only humans that are affected, but all other life forms too. The concept of environment as a basic human right, must also encompass a respect for the right of other species to survive on this planet. There are anywhere between 5 and 50 million species of plants, animals, and microorganisms sharing the earth with us, and each has a value of its own, a role to play in a vast, complex web of interdependent connections.

This range of species, the habitats they live in, and the internal genetic diversity they display, is called biological diversity or biodiversity. Such diversity is part of our daily lives and livelihoods, constituting resources upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. Biodiversity has numerous uses in agriculture, medicine, food and industry. It helps to maintain ecological balance and evolutionary processes, and has spiritual, cultural, aesthetic and recreational values.

Destruction of environment and thereby of the natural resources, is therefore, a violation or leads to the violation of human rights –
------- directly by undermining the above aspects of human existence, or
-------- indirectly by leading to other violations of human rights, for example through social disruption, conflicts and even war.

The enjoyment of all human rights is closely linked to the environmental issue. Not only rights to life and health in the first place, but also other social, economic, cultural, as well as political and civil rights, can be fully enjoyed only in a sound environment. And certainly, to go to an extreme, they cannot be enjoyed at all if the environment becomes impaired beyond a certain critical level. The whole of mankind could in such a case perish together with all its civilization, including human rights.
The worse the environment becomes, the more impaired are human rights, and vice versa. In this scenario, the importance of strengthening the constitutional safeguards for environment protection and nature conservation cannot be underscored. There can be no doubt that it is only by ensuring ecological security that the goal of sustainable development and national well-being will become feasible.
The General Assembly similarly has called the preservation of nature a prerequisite for the normal
life of man.

“ The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted at the conclusion of the 1992 Conference of Rio de Janeiro on Environment and Development , formulates a link between human rights and environmental protection largely in procedural terms, declaring in Principle 10 that -- access to information, public participation and access to effective judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, should be guaranteed because environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.“

Conclusion

Therefore the links between human rights and environmental protection is indivisible and inseparable and thus the right to a safe and healthy environment is an independent substantive human right.
Besides the undeniable interdependence between the environmental issue and all human rights, a new human right - the right to an adequate environment - is emerging. This right, still not precisely formulated, appears in documents and in literature, in some cases as a collective and in other cases as an individual human right.
 

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