Statement by Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna on the UNGA resolution recognising the Universal Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment


I join the chorus of international support for the landmark resolution recognising the right to access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 28 July 2022. I commend the global solidarity on this critical issue and congratulate all who contributed to this major milestone.

As large oceanic States, our Blue Pacific depends on the environment, on the ocean and on our biodiversity for our livelihoods and well-being. Our peoples have deep connections with their natural resources and environment. Indeed, we have a long-standing commitment to protect our environment, and through our Boe Declaration, we prioritise environmental and resource security.

We know that environmental damage has direct and indirect implications for the effective enjoyment of all human rights. For over seven decades, we have suffered, and continue to suffer, the enduring impacts and injustices of nuclear testing; injustices to our people’s rights, health, their homes and environment. Justice remains evasive.

Today, we face similar injustices through the climate emergency and threats to our ocean. Just last month, at their 51st Meeting, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders recognised the many impacts of climate change and disasters, and their threat to the future of the people and statehood of many Pacific nations.

They recalled their 2021 Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of climate change-related sea-level rise, and emphasised the threats of climate change and sea-level rise as the defining issue that imperils the livelihoods and wellbeing of our peoples and undermines the full realisation of a peaceful, secure and sustainable future for our region.

Forum Leaders also called on the UNGA for a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide an advisory opinion on the obligations of states under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse impacts of climate change.

Leaders further reiterated strong concerns for the significance of the potential threat of nuclear contamination to the health and security of the Blue Pacific, and reaffirmed the importance of ensuring international consultation, international law, and independent and verifiable scientific assessments.

I firmly believe that the UNGA resolution recognising the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right is a turning point – a Kairos moment – that will heighten ambitious actions on all environmental issues, such as those highlighted above by our Forum Leaders, and including actions towards negotiations at the UNFCCC COP27 in Egypt this November.

In the Pacific, we are guided by our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, prioritising people-centered development. We stand ready to deepen international cooperation to ensure that this landmark UNGA resolution for a universal human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is upheld, including through the full implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.

We will also continue to upholdour regional instruments such as the Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment (Noumea Convention), and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty which safeguards our region against environmental pollution by radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter.

I encourage all states to work towards national laws and measures to entrench this universal right for their people. We must reach higher standards of environmental protection for our One Blue Planet.