The Global Pact for the Environment: At the crossroads of human rights and the environment

AuthorJohn H. Knox
Published date01 April 2019
Date01 April 2019
RECIEL. 2019;28:40–47.
International l aw has long treated huma n rights law and interna tional
environmental law as separate fields. However, the problems they
address significantly overlap and the fields increasingly influence
one another. In some re spects, t hey are even beginni ng to merge.
The Global Pac t for the Environment has the pot ential to be a mile-
stone in this rapidly developing relationship.1
As its name sug gests, the Global P act is quite ambitious; it asp ires
to be nothing less t han a new internati onal environme ntal constitu-
tion. The Pac t was drafted by environment al law experts from dif fer-
ent countries, working under the auspices of the environment
commission of the Cl ub des Juristes, a French legal think tank. Laurent
Fabius, the presi dent of the French Conseil Constitutionnel, chaired the
meeting of the ex perts in June 2017 at which th e text was finalized.2
The most obviou s precursor of th e Global Pact i s the 1992 Rio
Declaration o n Environment and Development , many of whose prin-
ciples the Pac t repeats in similar o r even identical lang uage.3 However,
as Yann Aguila and Jor ge Viñuales explain, the Pa ct goes beyond the
Rio Declaration in significant respects, including by codifying the prin-
ciples in the form of a legally binding instrument, by including some
new principle s, and by providing for a com mittee of exper ts to monitor
compliance and facilitate implementation of the Pact.4
In the fall of 2017, the French governme nt promoted the Pact in
several forums , including a high - level side event at the U nited
Nations (UN) Gen eral Assemb ly in New York in Septembe r. In May
2018, the Gener al Assembly adopted a res olution entitled ‘Towards
a Global Pact f or the Environment’, which reque sted the Secretary-
General to sub mit a report on g aps in internatio nal environment al
law and environme nt- related instr uments, and establis hed an open-
ended working g roup to consider th e report and di scuss possible
options to addre ss such gaps, ‘and, if deemed nece ssary, the scope,
parameters a nd feasibilit y of an internationa l instrument , with a
view to making reco mmendations, which may in clude the convening
of an intergovernme ntal conference to adopt a n international inst ru-
ment, to the As sembly during the firs t half of 2019’.5
The present ar ticle does not at tempt to predic t what will emer ge
from this proces s. The final res ult, if any, may not look muc h like the
1‘Draft Glo bal Pact for th e Environment ’ (24 June 2017) .
2As the French M inister of Foreign Af fairs, Fabius pre sided over the 21st Co nference of
the Partie s to the United N ations Frame work Conventi on on Climate Ch ange, which
adopted the P aris Agreeme nt in December 2 015.
3Rio Declar ation on Enviro nment and Deve lopment in ‘ Report of the U nited Nation s
Conference o n Environmen t and Develop ment’ UN Do c A/CONF.151/26 (vol I) (12 Augus t
1992) Annex (Rio D eclaration).
4Y Aguila and J V iñuales, ‘A Global Pac t for the Environment: C onceptual Foundati ons’
(2019) 28 Review of Euro pean, Compar ative and Inter national Envir onmental Law 3 .
5UNGA ‘Towards a G lobal Pact for the Enviro nment’ UN Doc A/RES/72/27 7 (10 May
DOI: 10 .1111/reel .12287
The Global Pact for the Environment: At the crossroads of
human rights and the environment
John H. Knox
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Email: The Global Pac t for the Environment has the potential to b e a milestone in the rapidly
developing relationsh ip of human rights and the environment . Most importantly, the
first artic le recognizes the right of every per son ‘to live in an ecologically sou nd envir-
onment adequate for th eir health, well- being , dignity, culture and fulf ilment’. This
article provide s context for the prop osal to recognize the human r ight to a healthy
environment. It review s previous effor ts to recognize the huma n right to a healthy
environment at the natio nal and international l evels; explains how other hu man
rights, such as right s to life and health, have been constr ued to apply to environmen-
tal issues; and des cribes how recognition of the right in th e Global Pact, or in anothe r
instrument such as a r esolution of the United Nations Gene ral Assembly, would con-
tribute to the growing f ield of environmental human rights law.

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