The right to a healthy environment has been violated as a result of human activities which increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with all the consequent effects on global warming, rising sea levels and climate in general. While producing their own negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights in general and economic, social and cultural rights in particular, these phenomena have multiplier effects which also exacerbate the increasingly serious and numerous problems faced by the populations of poor regions. Human activities which affect the right to a healthy environment also take the form of deforestation which over the centuries has led to substantial forest losses and environmental degradation.
The right to a healthy environment is closely linked to economic, social and cultural rights. The exportation to developing countries, particularly in Africa, of hazardous waste produced by the industries of the North is a serious violation of the most important human rights, foremost of which is the right to life. Individuals and companies have engaged in transactions for the transfer of industrial wastes in disregard of the rights of individuals and peoples.
According to a report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the conservation of biological diversity is fundamental to human life. It is a basic factor in the way in which living organisms are structured. As such, it provides support for ecosystems, for the regulation of water and the atmosphere and the basis for agricultural production. When genetic variations are lost, therefore, the result is not only that specific and potential properties and adaptations are lost but also that the number of species-is diminished, ecosystems are impaired and the ability to sustain human life is damaged. That destruction of the ecosystem and of the equilibrium necessary for the survival of our species is aggravated in modern life by the effects of such contemporary human activities as pollution, the dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes and so forth.
A 1999 report from the European Environment Agency records that despite progress in certain areas, the overall quality of the environemnt is deteriorating. It highlighted problems that needed tackling as insufficient recycling, increased production and use of chemicals and the threat to human health from air pollution and skin cancer throgh the depletion of the ozone layer.
In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves. Although people are rightly worried - though much less than they should be - about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes its particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic "human ecology". Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. In this context, mention should be made of the serious problems of modern urbanization, of the need for urban planning which is concerned with how people are to live, and of the attention which should be given to a "social ecology" of work_The decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them. To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience. (Papal Encyclical, Centesimus Annus, 1 May 1991).