Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on “Environment and human rights: Right to Safe, Healthy and Sustainable Environment”, in Strasbourg from 27 to 30 September:

It is a pleasure to join the Parliamentary Assembly for this year’s timely debate on “Environment and Human Rights”.

Climate change, pollution, the rapid extinction of masses of species, the spread of zoonotic diseases…  Our planet is rapidly reaching a point of no return.  Not only are we destroying the natural world around us, we are effectively destroying our ability to honour our rights as human beings.  That’s because every human right ultimately depends on a healthy biosphere.  Without healthy, functioning ecosystems, there would be no clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, or nutritious food to eat.

The right to life, health, food, water, and culture are in jeopardy.  Efforts to slow climate change have proven insufficient to stop the tidal wave of environmental destruction sweeping the planet.  And once again, the most vulnerable populations are the worst affected.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call.  As a part of the natural world, human beings cannot and will not survive a drastic change in the environment.  We must recognize that a human rights-based recovery from the pandemic and our planet’s repair are two sides of the same coin.

Upcoming COPs on climate change and biodiversity as well as the Stockholm+50 meeting offer last-minute opportunities to really change course and redefine our relationship with nature.  But only if we recognize the environment and human rights as inseparable can we turn this tide.  Rights-based conservation is the most effective, efficient, and equitable path towards safeguarding the planet.

Only if we move towards sustainable consumption and production patterns will we be able to achieve equity in access to and use of natural resources.  We must urgently acknowledge the profound importance of implementing a rights-based approach to both the climate and biodiversity crises.

In this vein, I would urge the recognition of the right to a healthy environment.  Together, let’s build an inclusive world where people can enjoy the full respect of their human rights and live with dignity as living beings on a healthy planet.

I wish you a fruitful discussion.  Thank you.

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Author: Editor
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