Protecting environmental human rights defenders and promoting meaningful participation in climate talks

The role of National Human Rights Institutions

November 2, 2022
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The TriPartite Partnership to support National Human Rights Institutions is a means and a way to work collectively to prioritize the work of national human rights institutions.

UNDP Photo


Distinguished delegates, GANHRI Chair, UN partners, National Human Rights Institutions, colleagues,

I am pleased to participate in the opening of this symposium hosted by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in collaboration with the UN Human Rights Office and the United Nations Development Programme.

This collaboration is within the framework of the TriPartite Partnership to support National Human Rights Institutions, which is a means and a way for us to work collectively to prioritize the work of national human rights institutions. We want to support them as they continue to work on the front lines of contemporary human rights and development challenges around the world.

The triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity and ecosystem degradation threatens to reverse decades of development and exacerbate poverty. It disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, marginalized and excluded people and communities; and acts as a threat multiplier, amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities. This crisis is considered the greatest threat to human rights of our time, that contributes to, and exacerbates environmental injustices everywhere.  

An inclusive and rights-based approach to climate action is needed, to ensure that no one is left behind, and to usher in social and economic transformation to advance an inclusive green recovery and accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda.

The Human Rights Council recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in October 2021. Following this, in a landmark move, on 28 July, the United Nations General Assembly recognized that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a universal human right.

This important international legal development reinforces action in over 150 countries where the right to a healthy environment is already recognized. It reinforces the rights dimensions of the climate crisis and its impacts. The resolution has the potential to bring real change that benefits people and calls upon States, international organizations, and private actors to scale up their efforts to achieve sustainable, environmentally conscious development.

National Human Rights Institutions and GANHRI have been at the forefront of efforts to highlight the human rights dimensions and impacts of the climate crisis. This is acknowledged by the actions of the UN Human Rights Council just three weeks ago which adopted a resolution welcoming the critical contributions of national human rights institutions in monitoring, reporting and advising governments and other stakeholders on climate action that is based on human rights.  We applaud the specific recognition of the role of national human rights institutions by the Human Rights Council and the work of NHRIs, GANHRI and the regional networks in these efforts. We are proud to partner with you and support you in these efforts.

Around the world, UNDP plays an important role in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation and its human rights implications. UNDP’s broad-based development mandate, global presence, and expertise across the range of cross-cutting areas and issues related to human rights and the environment, uniquely position UNDP in the UN system and with partners and stakeholders to support the realization of the right to a healthy environment for all.  

We support policy makers, governments, national human rights institutions and stakeholders at all levels to ensure that climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and measures are effectively grounded in a human rights-based approach that puts people’s rights at the centre.

This work includes strengthening legal frameworks and ensuring inclusive processes including through UNDP’s Climate promise. Through this flagship initiative, 110,000 people have been engaged in stakeholder consultations on nationally determined contributions in 67 countries, helping to guild social consensus and explicit recognition of the roles of youth and women’s leadership in renewed climate pledges.

A clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a matter of justice.  It calls for expanded opportunities for advocacy, legal claims, strategic litigation, and ultimately, greater accountability of states and other actors including businesses, for their actions towards our environment. Within this context, the role of environmental human rights defenders, who have already paid a high price for their calls and actions to stop harmful practices, is critical. In 2020, 227 land and environmental activists were murdered, the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year.

Colleagues, we all depend on the environment for our direct and indirect wellbeing, so threats to it are threats to human rights, to peace, security and sustainable development. UNDP, and the broader UN system, is committed to supporting governments, national human rights institutions, civil society, businesses and people in their efforts to make the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment a reality for all.

The time for action is now and we have no time to lose.

I thank you and look forward to learning about the conclusions of the discussions today.