United Nations: Make Contact with Nature a Human Right
United Nations: Make Contact with Nature a Human Right
Why this petition matters
We are calling on the United Nations to recognise contact with nature as a human right.
Exposure to ecologically rich 'green space' is essential to our welfare. It should be a right for all, not a privilege.
WE NEED NATURE
Homo sapiens' wellbeing depends on being in our natural habitat as much as any other species'. After spending 99% of our history evolving in wild surroundings, we have a genetically encoded need to be surrounded by verdant natural life.
Contact with nature has been found to be as vital to our welfare as regular exercise and a healthy diet (Dr. Qing Li, 2018). Immersion in green spaces has significant, wide-ranging benefits, including:
- Boosting our immune systems
- Lowering blood pressure and heart rate
- Making us happier, more confident and less anxious
- Preventing and mitigating the symptoms of psychiatric disorders (including depression and schizophrenia)
- Sharpening memory and focus
- Improving creativity and problem-solving abilities
- Raising IQ levels
- Increasing anti-cancer protein production
- Preventing cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes
- Lengthening life span.
A mushrooming body of evidence from thousands of experts, spanning continents and disciplines, supports what many of us intuitively feel: nature is a panacea. Given how essential green space is to our mental and physical health – the very foundations of our quality of life – access to it should be a right for all.
BUT WE'RE INCREASINGLY DEPRIVED OF IT
“The future of the world’s population is urban.” – United Nations ‘World Urbanization Prospects Report’ (2018)
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell 'Big Yellow Taxi' (1970)
Today, over half of the world's population – some 4.3 billion human beings – live in urban areas. By 2050, the UN predict it will be 3 in 5 of us. Global urbanisation has reduced access to and engagement with green space, with major implications for global wellbeing (including rising stress, sedentariness, asthma, myopia and mental illness, as well as environmental damage).
Already in the UK, 2.7 million people don’t live within accessible walking distance of a green space. In America, it’s a staggering 100 million. Globally, hundreds of millions of people are affected by nature deprivation, and the serious mental and physical afflictions that it can – and does – cause.
As urbanisation accelerates, these numbers will continue to rise, unless we take action to reverse them.
ESPECIALLY THOSE MARGINALISED BY SOCIETY
Nature deprivation is a social and environmental inequality, which disproportionately impacts marginalised communities. Across the industrialised West, wealthier, whiter urban neighbourhoods are leafier (with well-funded parks and large private gardens) whereas neighbourhoods that are home to greater numbers of Black and ethnic minority communities, and low-income households, have limited access to green space.
In the UK's most economically deprived areas, residents are nearly 6X less likely to describe their area as "green", and children are 9X less likely to have access to green space, compared to those in affluent areas. Black British households are 2.4X more likely to not have a garden, and nearly 4X more likely than to have no outdoor space, than white ones.
Yet it is precisely these marginalised communities who need nature’s tonic most. If health is wealth, the current distribution of urban green space is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. An injection of plant life can help redress socio-economic gaps, through the free health-boosting impacts that high-quality greenery provides.
The inequality of nature deprivation demands an active intervention for social justice. The UN must hold the world’s governments accountable for maintaining a minimum level of natural space within populated areas by enshrining contact with nature as a human right.
So, what can we do? To protect present and future generations’ physical, emotional, cognitive and social wellbeing, we must enshrine contact with natural environments as a human right.
The UN must make the world’s governments accountable for ensuring that their citizens have daily contact with ecologically rich, verdant environments, alongside the other human rights provided by a fair, humanitarian society.
Please sign and share this vital petition today.
Every signature counts – and we’re counting on yours.
For sources and to discover even more incredible benefits of nature, check out the campaign's Resources.
What are human rights?
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, political views, or any other marker of difference. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination. You can find more information here.
The UN’s Declaration of Human Rights comprises a broad range of 30 internationally accepted rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. You can find a summary here.
What role does the United Nations play?
The United Nations is responsible for creating and supervising a comprehensive body of human rights law: a universal and internationally protected code to which all nations can subscribe and all people aspire. International human rights law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, lays down the obligations of governments to act in certain ways, to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
Has the United Nations recognised the importance connection to nature in any other way?
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals presuppose the importance of human connection to nature, without yet recognising it explicitly as a human right. Making access to nature a human right is not only consistent with, but reinforced and supported by, many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Good Health & Wellbeing, Reduced Inequalities and Sustainable Cities.
More recently, the proposed Right to a Healthy Environment puts forward six elements: clean air; a safe climate; healthy ecosystems and biodiversity; healthy and sustainably produced food; access to clean water and adequate sanitation; and non-toxic environments. These are all necessary, however they exclude the right to contact with nature – real, living green spaces.
The sensations of spending time in nature, themselves, as valuable to our bodies and minds as the products nature produces (clean air, healthy food, etc.), and so nature-access must be protected in and of itself. Also, given that climate conversations are dominated by ideas like geoengineering and terraforming, 'the right to a healthy environment' could be misinterpreted and hijacked by techno-futurists, to engineer 'a healthy environment' without explicitly protecting the right to access nature itself (which would result in missing out on vital elements to our wellbeing).
What will change as a result of this petition’s success?
Governments and local authorities will have to ensure that every citizen has daily contact with nature. This means proactively designing new urban environments and social housing to accommodate nature, and adapting current areas to meet this requirement (such as by depaving, rewilding, retrofitting green architecture and creating pocket parks). This will reduce socio-economic inequality and increase quality of life for human beings around the world, while reducing strain on government services such as the NHS.
What about conservation areas?
This petition aims for every human being to have access to a nearby natural environment, not to every natural environment. We don't suggest that every natural environment should become accessible to every human being – natural spaces under special protection would rightly remain so.
Where can I find more information?
For all sources of information cited in this petition and more, go to natureisahumanright.earth
How can I support this petition?
First, sign and share with as many people as you can. To get involved as a champion of the campaign, or to request campaign materials, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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