In recent days, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution, declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment a universal human right, something that was not included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. This will change the nature of international law, urging countries, international organizations and the private sector to intensify efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all and to curb the triple crisis that our planet is facing: the climate emergency, pollution and biodiversity loss.
The resolution is a big step towards protecting our environment and addressing the climate emergency, as access to a healthy environment will go from being a request to being a right. Therefore, we must improve the relationship between economic development and socio-environmental sustainability, empowering the population, especially the most vulnerable groups.
Aligned with the Escazú Agreement
The General Assembly also recognized in its resolution that the exercise of human rights, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information, the right to participate in governmental and public affairs, and the right to an effective remedy, is vital to the protection of a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Therefore, this resolution is fully aligned with the Escazú Agreement, the first environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) that aims to contribute to the protection of the population’s right to live in a healthy environment and to sustainable development.
What are we doing at the IDB to stop the triple environmental crisis?
The IDB’s new Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF) reaffirms our commitment as a partner in the region to managing environmental and social risks in the operations we support and establishes performance standards in several areas.
In line with the UN resolution and with the Escazú Agreement, we recognize access to justice in environmental matters, access to environmental information and the right to public participation as key pillars in environmental decision-making, as established in the standard on Stakeholder Engagement and Information Disclosure (ESPS 10).
Let’s take a closer look at how else our ESPF addresses the triple environmental crisis.
1. Climate change
LAC countries are highly exposed to the effects of climate change, especially in their most vulnerable populations. This is why, at the IDB, we continue to work to minimize impacts and mitigate risks related to climate change in our projects. During the most recent United Nations summit on climate change (COP26), the IDB announced its intention to align all its loans and projects with the Paris Agreement starting in 2023.
To mitigate climate-related risks, the ESPF includes an exclusion list, which contains certain activities that the IDB will not finance mainly because they are incompatible with our decarbonization commitment. In addition, operations must implement cost-effective alternatives to avoid the emission of greenhouse gases.
Regarding the adaptation to the climate change effects that we are already experiencing, the Bank requires its borrowers to evaluate and manage the natural hazards and risks associated with this phenomenon. Specifically, the standard on Community Health and Safety (ESPS 4) includes a specific section on resilience to natural hazards and climate change. In addition, the Disaster and Climate Change Risk Assessment Methodology for IDB projects provides the guidelines the Bank and its borrowers must follow to ensure that interventions are safe for the community and the surrounding environment.
2. Biodiversity loss
At the IDB we are committed to protecting biodiversity, natural resources, and ecosystem services, which is why our projects must include measures for their protection, conservation, and sustainable management; thereby enhancing natural habitats, as well as the region’s biodiversity and ecosystems. The IDB also supports the inclusion of nature-based solutions (NBS) with the aim of preserving biodiversity in infrastructure projects, generating multiple social benefits.
In accordance with the standard on the Conservation of Biodiversity and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources (ESPS 6), at the Bank we do not allow projects to be implemented in critical habitats, unless there is no other viable alternative and the project can be executed without any adverse impacts on those biodiversity values for which the critical habitat was designated or on the ecological processes supporting those biodiversity values.
The implementation of the IDB’s ESPF in the projects we finance offers a clear benefit by promoting measures aimed at preventing, reducing, reusing and recovering waste, as well as reducing or eliminating pollution resulting from project activities, through the use of materials that are free of toxic substances. Additionally, and if necessary, it promotes the reinforcement of national regulations and the institutional capacity of borrowers to meet international standards and best available practices.
In this sense, the standard on Efficiency in the Use of Resources and Pollution Prevention (ESPS 3) recognizes the concept and emerging practice of the circular economy and resource recovery, where usable and valuable products can be created or derived from what has been previously viewed as waste.
A fundamental human right
The loss of biodiversity, the climate emergency and widespread pollution have put the fight for a healthy planet at forefront of the international agenda. The integration of human rights in the environmental and social management of projects must ensure that we respect, protect and promote the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and that we guarantee access to information and participation.
Although this resolution that considers access to a healthy environment as a universal human right is not legally binding, it will be the first step so that, gradually, countries strengthen their constitutions and legislation, so as to provide more tools to tackle policies, plans and programs that violate this fundamental human right. Together with the Escazú Agreement, every day we have more instruments to empower environmental defenders and protect their work in Latin America and the Caribbean.