UN Report Recognizes Biodiversity as Essential to Human Rights

Litter on the coast of Guyana. Nils Ally 2010, Wikimedia Commons

U.N. Expert: Biodiversity Is Essential To Human Rights

By Chris D’Angelo, March 17, 2017

For the first time, a United Nations report has recognized biodiversity and healthy ecosystems as essential to human rights.

The report, authored by U.N. Special Rapporteur [on human rights and the environment] John Knox, a human rights expert and professor of international law at Wake Forest University, comes amid a biodiversity crisis that many scientists have pegged as the beginning of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event.

“Biodiversity is really necessary for the full enjoyment of rights to food, water, health—the right to live a full and happy life,” Knox told The Huffington Post on Thursday. “Without the services that healthy ecosystems provide across the board, we really can’t enjoy a whole range of human rights. And healthy ecosystems really depend on biodiversity.”

The assessment, which Knox presented to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council at a meeting this month in Geneva, Switzerland, concludes that, “in order to protect human rights, states have a general obligation to protect ecosystems and biodiversity.”

The U.N. has not taken a formal position on the matter. The Human Rights Council is considering whether to adopt a resolution recognizing the relationship of biodiversity and human rights. Knox said a decision is expected by the end of the month.

In many ways, the rate of species extinction—which humankind has sped up roughly 1,000 times, according to a 2005 assessment—is as much of a crisis as climate change, Knox says. Yet it gets far less attention. As he notes in the report, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity found in 2010 that nations have failed miserably in meeting adopted targets to reduce biodiversity loss. …

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