To be able to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat clean food — those are the simple yet radical demands that France’s president Emmanuel Macron wants for everyone on Earth.
He announced his plan to enshrine the universal right to a clean environment within the United Nations over the weekend at Sorbonne University. If passed, it would be the third such universal rights pact adopted by the global body. The first two pacts were passed in 1966 and cover civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights.
Under the proposed pact, penalties would be instituted for countries who fail to ensure this right for citizens, and member states would be encouraged to adopt environmentally friendly laws.
Macron’s hoping for it to come to a vote this September at the UN General-Assembly and will be rallying support for it until then.
The plan seemingly echoes what US President Donald Trump said when he withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement, and, as a result, challenges the US to live up to its own standards.
“The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth,” Trump said on June 1. “We'll be the cleanest. We're going to have the cleanest air. We're going to have the cleanest water.”
Macron has been on a mission to bolster the Paris climate arrangement since Trump left, and this latest move seems to be part of that effort.
Since June 1, he’s issued a joint European Union-China announcement in support of the Paris agreement; worked with his peers in the EU to make the agreement legally binding for EU members; invited climate change researchers to work in France; and even made a website mocking Trump’s campaign slogan called “Make the Planet Great Again.”
A universal right to a healthy environment would most immediately benefit the the countries supported by the Green Climate Fund, which Trump disparaged in his announcement.
“Many of the other countries haven’t spent anything,” Trump said at the time. “And many of them will never pay one dime.”
These are low-income countries that are bearing the brunt of climate change and need help adapting.
If Macron’s idea succeeds, then it seems plausible that the Green Climate Fund would receive a boost in funding because it directly supports the right for many people.
His announcement had another challenge to Trump, as well.
In attendance at the Sorbonne was the former governor of California and Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been a consistent critic of Trump’s anti-environmental policies.
One of the biggest critiques of the Paris climate accord is that it’s not legally binding. The pact, signed by every country in the world except Syria and Nicaragua (and recently abandoned by the US), aims to keep climate change in check by getting countries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.
But no meaningful enforcement mechanisms can ensure that countries uphold their pledges. And so some skeptics fear that as the years go by, missed targets and other disappointments will pile up.
The universal right to a clean environment could be a backdoor, jerry-rigged way to make the Paris agreement binding if the same countries sign this pact and agree to its demands.
If all people receive the right to a clean environment, then, it seems, greenhouse gas emissions would have to be halted.