UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment John Knox [official profile] stated [press release] Tuesday that international governments must acknowledge and account for human rights when formulating environmental regulations. Knox delivered his remarks in Nairobi at the First Universal Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum [official website], a gathering hosted by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) [official website] this week. Knox urged global governments to utilize recommendations formulated by international organization and UN conferences, specifically Rio +20 [official website], when creating environmental regulations in order to best protect the rights of vulnerable populations. He also warned world governments of the dangers of inaction:
When governments around the world fail to restrict emissions of greenhouse gases, jeopardizing the continued existence of, among others, vulnerable communities in the Arctic and in low-lying coastal areas, they fail to protect many human rights, including rights to life, health, property, and development.Knox will present a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] in March detailing the issues he will confront in performing his obligations to study and make recommendations about interrelated human rights and environmental issues.
The UN is regularly confronted with issues at the intersection of human and environmental rights. In January more than 140 nations gathered at a UN forum agreed [JURIST report] to a legally binding treaty addressing the use of mercury, a metal that is infamous for its detrimental effects on health and the environment. Last June, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] and UNEP issued a joint report [JURIST report] highlighting the need for the implementation of integrative human rights and environmental protection laws and policies to achieve sustainable development. The report stated that the "protection of the environment and the promotion of human rights are increasingly seen as intertwined" and that individuals from poor countries are more vulnerable to diseases and other basic need insecurities as a direct result of the ecosystem.