* Decision qualified as “historic breakthrough”
* Britain votes in favor of surprise decision
* Council creates special rapporteur on climate change (add quotes, bullet points)
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, Oct. 8 (Reuters) – The UN Human Rights Council on Friday recognized access to a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right, officially adding weight to the global fight against climate change and its devastating consequences.
The vote was passed with overwhelming support, despite upstream criticism from some countries, notably the United States and Great Britain.
The resolution, first discussed in the 1990s, is not legally binding but has the potential to shape global standards. Lawyers involved in climate disputes say it could help them build arguments in cases involving the environment and human rights.
“This has life-changing potential in a world where the global environmental crisis causes more than nine million premature deaths each year,” said David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Human Rights. environment, which called the decision a “historic breakthrough”.
The text, proposed by Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland, was adopted with 43 votes in favor and 4 abstentions from Russia, India, China and Japan, causing a rare round of applause in the Geneva forum.
Britain, which was among the critics of the proposal in recent intense negotiations, voted in favor of a last-minute surprise move. Her UN ambassador in Geneva, Rita French, said the UK was voting ‘yes’ because it shared the ambition of its supporters to tackle climate change, but added that states would not. not bound by the terms of the resolution.
The United States did not vote because it is not currently a member of the 47-member Council.
Costa Rican Ambassador Catalina Devandas Aguilar said the decision “will send a powerful message to communities around the world struggling with climate challenges that they are not alone.”
Critics had raised various objections, saying the Council was not the appropriate forum and citing legal concerns.
Conservationists had said Britain’s previous critical stance undermined its commitments ahead of the global climate conference it is hosting in Glasgow next month.
John Knox, a former UN special rapporteur, said ahead of the vote that those who criticized the resolution were “on the wrong side of history.”
The World Health Organization estimates that some 13.7 million deaths per year, or about 24.3% of the global total, are due to environmental risks such as air pollution and exposure to chemicals. .
Another Marshall Islands-led proposal to create a new special rapporteur on climate change was also approved by the Council on Friday. (Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Stephanie Nebehay, John Stonestreet and Dan Grebler)