All human rights ultimately depend on a healthy environment. It was recognised 50 years ago that the environment is essential to humanity’s wellbeing and to the enjoyment of basic human rights. It is recognised today that the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution pose the ‘single greatest challenge to human rights of our era’.
On 28 July 2022, the right to a healthy environment received universal recognition when the UN General Assembly passed a landmark resolution reaffirming recognition of the right as a human right.
The 2021 Australia State of the Environment Report identifies that, in a rapidly changing climate, with unsustainable development and use of resources and declining biodiversity, the general outlook of Australia’s environment is poor and deteriorating.
It is time to enshrine the right of all Australians to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in law.
We have published a national report on the right to a healthy environment in Australia: A Healthy Environment is a Human Right. Our report addresses what the right to a healthy environment is and its legal status in Australia, why we consider Australian governments should recognise the right to a healthy environment in our laws, and different options for the right to be recognised in Australian law.
Our report makes four recommendations for the Australian government to support recognition of the right to a healthy environment in international law and for all levels of government to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in Australian law.
Recommendation 1: The Australian Government supports recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (‘right to a healthy environment’) in international law, including by supporting and ratifying any international treaty mechanisms that includes the right.
Recommendation 2: Legislate the right to a healthy environment in an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Recommendation 3: Legislate the right to a healthy environment in new and existing state and territory human rights legislation.
Recommendation 4: If the Australian Government does not introduce an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, legislate a duty into the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) for Commonwealth officials to act consistently with the right to a healthy environment and make it a mandatory consideration when exercising their functions under federal legislation that affects the environment and human health, in particular human rights and environmental legislation.