UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, a vote Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “historic.”
The vote in the 193-member world body was 161-0 with eight countries abstaining — China, Russian Federation, Belarus, Cambodia, Iran, Syria, Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia.
“This landmark development demonstrates that member states can come together in our collective fight against the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution,” Guterres’ deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
The resolution, based on a similar text adopted last year by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, calls on all nations, international organizations and businesses to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all people.
Guterres cautioned that the adoption of the resolution was only the beginning.
He urged all countries to make the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment “a reality for everyone, everywhere,” Haq said.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding. Russia and others who abstained said the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment can only become a legally recognized right when it is included in international treaties.
Nevertheless, the General Assembly resolution was hailed as a milestone including by Inger Andersen, executive director of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program.
Echoing Guterres, she said the General Assembly had “made history,” delivering “a victory for people and planet” that has been five decades in the making.
“From a foothold in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, the right has been integrated into constitutions, national laws and regional agreements,” Andersen said. “In October 2021, it was recognized by the UN Human Rights Council. Today’s decision elevates the right to where it belongs: universal recognition.”