Appendix I: Human Rights and the Environment

The John Humphrey Centre Rights in Play Guide provides the following background information on the topic, Human Rights and the Environment:


Several human rights require a healthy environment and ecosystem, such as the right to the highest attainable standard of health, as guaranteed by the CRC [see Appendix B] (Article 24) (for more information, visit,, and/or Sustainable development and environmental protection are essential ingredients for meeting human rights goals. Challenges such as overpopulation and overuse of non-renewable resources strain the environment but also impact our ability to provide basic human rights for all. The activities in this section explore the connections between human rights and the environment.

Today, the world contains enough clean freshwater to meet basic personal and domestic needs, however freshwater is not equally distributed, leading to insufficient access for many people globally. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to a resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”. This resolution aligns with the human rights commitment to providing for the basic needs of all.

Another link between human rights and the environment exists with the rights to property, identity and culture found in the UDHR [see Appendix A] and CRC [see Appendix B]. In some regions of the world, global warming and other types of climate change are leading to rising sea levels. This means that people living in the coastal regions affected may be displaced and forced to abandon their property if their land disappears. If forced to relocate, it is often difficult to maintain identity and culture.

International awareness of the linkages between human rights and the environment has expanded significantly in recent years. The natural and man-made aspects of man’s environment are essential to the enjoyment of basic human rights. The environment provides mental, physical and spiritual sustenance, elements necessary for realizing human rights. Everything from the right to life to the right to culture and shelter can be linked to the environment.



Climate Change: when long-term weather patterns are altered (for example, through human activity).

Global warming: a rise in the average global temperature. It is one measure of climate change.

Overpopulation: when the Earth is unable to support a larger human population.

Sustainable Development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Understanding the Concept:

Human rights and the environment are intricately related. The realisation of many human rights, especially those referring to basic needs, rely on a clean and healthy environment. Rights such as shelter, culture, food and water, sanitation, and health care may be negatively impacted when the environment is not healthy. Climate change, including global warming, overpopulation, and the overuse of the Earth’s non-renewable resources, make it difficult to meet the human rights needs of all.

DID YOU KNOW?  [This information can be expanded and amended.]

  • In 2006, 1.1 billion people in developing countries lacked access to a basic supply of water from a safe and clean source.

  • In Canada, many communities, including some remote rural communities and First Nations communities, do not have access to safe and clean drinking water despite Canada having large freshwater resources.

  • The idea of privatization of water resources is controversial. Some countries, such as Singapore, import water from neighbouring countries and have successfully increased their access to water.

  • Rising sea levels threaten many island and coastal communities. The main islands of the Carteret group (Papua New Guinea), home to approx. 2500 people, are being evacuated to the coast, 8 hours by boat away. The island is expected to be submerged by 2015. This affects the islanders’ ability to achieve their rights (i.e. right to a nationality, culture, property, etc.)

  • Canada agreed to recognize ‘The Right to Water’ in 2012: UNDP, 2006. Human Development Report 2006: Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis. [online] NewYork: United Nations Development Programme: Available at: