Environmental rights are human rights, too.
Nigerian activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa said that 'the environment is humanity's first right.' He was hanged on 10 November 1995 with nine other rights campaigners, after years of effective grassroots protest against the destruction of his Ogoni people's environment by petroleum exploration, by a multinational corporation in partnership with his own government.
Many environmentally concerned citizens have been threatened by their own governments for protesting against pollution (Indonesia, Nigeria), the depletion of natural resources (Burma's teak forests), or the destruction of native species (China's proposed Yangtze River dam); or for exposing dangerous practices in disposing of nuclear waste (a 'state secret' in Russia). The governments themselves may be pressured, through their need for foreign investment, to lower environmental standards and labour protections to seek investment from multinational corporations. The result may be long-term damage to the environment, and to the people.
As the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment said in 1972, humanity:
'. . . has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and [he] bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.'
The United Nations Environment Program was established as a program as a result of the 1972 Stockholm Conference.
Ecological damage is a violation of our human rights, especially for indigenous people and the rural poor who depend for their survival on what nature provides. That is why many Aboriginal people oppose the development of uranium mines in their traditional lands, in Australia; and the Ogoni people fight against petroleum exploration in Nigeria.
The way to protect the environment is to seek an understanding of it's eco-systems, to know it, and to seek a remedy if it is damaged.
So it is necessary for people to be able to speak freely, to gain accurate information, to associate and assemble without restraint and to express their opinions knowing that they will not be persecuted for speaking out.
Some of the worst cases of ecological harm occur in countries controlled by authoritarian governments that do not respect environmental rights. Some of the worst human rights abuses are perpetrated to eliminate resistance and prevent the facts from being internationally exposed.
Environmental destruction is also a threat to the basic human right to life, and a decent standard of living.
Our world population is continuing to grow, much faster than we are able to accommodate them, which causes stress on the citizens and is changing the rural/urban make-up of our population distribution. Now 80% of the total population in such countries as Argentina, Libya, Australia, Sweden and NZ live in cities.
Climate change through global warming will not only affect our economic stability, but also our very survival. Man-made chemicals are threatening our fertility and intelligence, and thus our survival. There have been major chemical accidents in the USA, Alaska, Mexico, the former USSR, India, China, and many other countries . We know that the ozone layer has been depleted and that the internal combustion engine has contributed to this. In 1950 there was one car for every 46 people in the world: in 1970, one for every 18. By 1994, there was one for every 12.
Our oceans, that cover more than 70% of the earth's surface, are being depleted through overfishing and pollution. We are destroying species and driving plants, animals, fish and insects into extinction before we know anything about them. 10% or more of known mammal species are under threat, as well as much of the earth's bird life, and remaining old growth forests. The world environment, that future generations will inherit, is under constant threat, and unless practices of ecological sustainable development are realised the earth's human population faces a very uncertain future.
Friends of the Earth