A clean and healthy environment should be a basic human right – international law could make it one

(The Independent, 11 Nov 2019) If the right to a clean and healthy environment is enshrined in international law, states would be expressly obligated to ‘respect, protect and fulfil’ it. It should and would impact domestic law around the globe.

“They’re just a bunch of unemployed hippies,” a man beside me hissed as he wrestled past the Extinction Rebellion protests that had set up camp in Oxford Circus bringing central London to a standstill.

Across the street a woman in a car screamed similar sentiments at a convoy of protesters on bicycles who were approaching the main sit-in.

That week I was in London, I heard the same insults being repeated over and over again: members of the global protest movement demanding immediate solutions to the world's climate emergency were  “useless hippie millennials” disrupting the streets and wasting police time with their fluffy nonsense, fear-mongering and behaviour.

This week, at the extreme end of that rejection of environmental activism, was the Trump administration beginning the formal process to leave the Paris Agreement, one of the only global initiatives to combat climate change at an interstate level. 

There are many reasons driving the scepticism and misplaced anger. But I believe at the heart of why it is so easy for people to dismiss the vital battle to fight climate change is a problem of language. The lack of legal language, to precise.

There is nothing specifically written into international law enshrining the basic right of human beings to a clean and healthy environment or identifying widespread damage to the environment as a crime. 

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The Independent, 11 Nov 2019: A clean and healthy environment should be a basic human right – international law could make it one