Universal Environmental Rights: In Honor of the 2009 UN Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change

By Diane Perlman

On December 10, 2009:

  • It will be the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human RIghts, spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt in the aftermath of World War II;
  • President Barack Obama will be receiving his Nobel Peace Prize;
  • It will be the fourth day of the UN 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, with 240 NGO events and 2,000 other events scheduled during the two week conference; and
  • The streets in Copenhagen and around the world will be filled with people, in the biggest demonstration of global unity calling for a sound treaty and global actions to remedy the greatest crisis ever faced by humanity.

As the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change coincides with Human Rights Day, let’s consider whether our 2009 world calls for amending the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and whether it is appropriate to elevate our basic needs for survival to the level of universal human rights.

Here is a draft proposal to amend the UDHR in honor of Copenhagen. Suggestions, endorsements or strategies for its use are most welcome in comments.

UNIVERSAL ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Recommended Amendments to the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
In Honor of the
2009 UN Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change
© Diane Perlman, PhD

PREAMBLE

Whereas the 1948 the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,”

Whereas in 2009, recognition the world has changed dramatically in ways not imagined, such that catastrophic climate change threatens the very rights declared in 1948, we recognize that human rights now depend on protecting our environment for the welfare of all living now and in the future, and that freedom to live in harmony with our environment is the basis for all other human rights, necessary to enjoy life, health, freedom, justice and peace.

Whereas it is essential, if humans not to be compelled to suffer effects of melting ice, rising sea levels, disappearing islands, coastlines and living space, intense storms, fires, droughts, and starvation, creating mental health problems, civil wars, and hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, that environmental “rights should be protected by the rule of law,”

Whereas it is essential to promote the pledge not just to protect, but to reverse and transform deeply ingrained destructive habits, patterns, systems, and infrastructures, to husband natural resources, and to replenish life support systems on Earth and the development of cooperation between nations,

Whereas we all live in a web of life – in habitats and climates designed to support life for humans, animals, and plants, and we can only develop fully as individuals, communities, and global citizens when we are nourished by our environment, and that the dignity, worth and rights of the person and the promotion of social progress and freedom now require affirmation of the worth of our natural environment,

Now, Therefore, we propose, as a matter of great urgency, amendments to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a critical basis for all rights and freedoms, that every person and nation is asked to support the understanding and respect for our environment and to take steps to make sure that the protection of all ecosystems and species biodiversity everywhere is recognized for all people, and all animals, plants, habitats and climates that we depend on to enjoy life.

We request Member States to pledge themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for environmental rights, by “teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Article 1

All beings alive today are born with rights to a clean, safe, sustainable environment, and a right to live without fear of catastrophic changes that threaten life, health and home. These are part of our Universal Human Rights to have our basic needs met.

Article 2

Future generations are entitled to the same rights as those now living. Protecting natural systems and species today is inseparable from the universal rights of future inhabitants of this planet.

Article 3

All beings have the right to breathe clean air, free from harmful pollution. No one has a right to produce harmful, toxic emissions into the air that others breathe, and on which we depend. All should work to transform industrial infrastructures and practices to reduce all kinds of pollution.

Article 4

All have the right to clean water and the benefits of clean, healthy oceans, lakes, rivers and streams and the life they contain. No one has the right to dump garbage, toxins, plastics or anything harmful into our waters, or to engage in practices that destroy or alter natural environments essential to balance the Earth’s ecosystem.

Article 5

All are dependent on the plant world’s viability and diversity for food, medicinal plants, oxygen and materials to sustain health and life. All have the right to affordable, nutritious food from plants, grown in clean, rich soil, free of toxins, chemicals, and acid rain. No one has the right to destroy forests or engage in practices that harm the biosphere. All have the right to live free from preventable diseases and human-driven extinction. No one has the right to alter natural habitats by contamination, and unnatural practices that exploit nature and cause disease.

Article 6

Respecting animal rights contributes to human welfare. Pets, service animals, farm animals and all living under human control are dependent on humans for life, comfort and health. Animals in remote habitats are also affected by human behavior. Treating animals humanely, in conditions designed according to their natural habitats, fed their natural diet eaten over millennia, can prevent diseases and epidemics caused by unnatural practices. No one has the right to confine animals in ways that restrict their natural movement, or to allow hunger, physical or emotional pain or suffering or to alter their conditions for life.

Article 7

All have the right to live in a world free of toxic radioactive materials and waste, deadly for tens of thousands to millions of years, posing dangers from emissions into the air, leakage into groundwater, accidents, and radiation sickness. All have a right to safe power that does not provoke proliferation, pose security risks, or create false national pride and the felt need to develop dangerous forms of energy that drain money away from human needs. All have the inalienable right to safe, clean, nontoxic, renewable forms of energy that cost less and create more jobs.

Article 8

All living things have the right to live in a world free of exposure to toxic chemicals, including herbicides and pesticides, dumped garbage and acid rain that rarely existed in pre-industrial history and that alter the balance of ecosystems. Chemicals interact to cause ongoing genetic and environmental damage, disrupting hormones, impairing immunity, causing cancer, neurotoxicity, infertility, birth defects, deformities, genetic mutations, death, and extinctions. No one has the right to endanger humans, animals, plants, their habitats and ecosystems with poisonous materials. All living things have the right to safe agricultural practices.

Article 9

All have the right to live in a world free of excessive disposable plastics that produce many tons of waste, pollute waters, strangle sea life and create enormous patches of dangerous floating debris in our oceans. No one has the right to promote destructive habits for profit with the illusion of convenience. We have a right to institutions and laws that foster transitions to natural, non-disposable, reusable, and biodegradable products.

Article 10

All have a right to live without fear of violence and war. We have a right to effective mediation and conflict transformation practices using nonviolent methods designed to address and correct root causes, basic human needs, legitimate goals, and just grievances. All parties have a right to address underlying issues emphasizing tension reduction, positive inducements and incentives for cooperation. All have a right to be treated in ways that avoid humiliation, threats, fear, provocative pressure, and domination. No one has a right to threaten innocents with conventional, biological or chemical weapons. All have a right to live in a world founded on policies of “Mutually Assured Survival,” striving for mutual gain and approaches designed to produce stability and enduring security.

Article 11

All living beings, including vulnerable species in threatened habitats, interdependent with human needs, have the right to a protection. All have the right to mediation, alternative dispute resolution and conflict resolution methods designed to address environmental conflicts. Adversarial, zero sum approaches often increase tension, escalate conflicts and may lead to damaging results. Non-adversarial practices, including mediation and restorative justice practices are more effective and less wasteful of time and money.

Article 12

We all have a right to live in a world free of all nuclear weapons, without the fear of annihilation. No government or other actor has the right to threaten or use nuclear weapons that harm innocent people, animals and plants and our ecosystem, and accelerate catastrophic climate change. All have a right to live without loose, dangerous fissile materials which should be quickly secured. All should act together to improve and transform international relationships to enhance mutual security to create more political will necessary to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.

Diane Perlman is a clinical and political psychologist, devoted to applying knowledge from psychology, conflict studies and social sciences to designing strategies and policies to reverse nuclear proliferation, to drastically reduce terrorism, and to raise consciousness about nonviolent strategies for tension reduction and conflict transformation. She is co-chair of the committee on Global Violence and Security for Psychologists fro Social Responsibility and the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence, Division 48 of the American Psychological Association. Some of her writings can be found on her websites, www.consciouspolitics.org and www.humanchainreaction.org

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