Biosphere Defenders in a march.

Human Rights and the International Day for Biological Diversity

This article is written by a student and reflects their individual perspectives and opinions. It does not constitute an official representation of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute. The content provided here is for educational and informational purposes only, and readers should be aware that it does not necessarily align with the official position of the institute. Readers are encouraged to independently verify information and seek guidance from appropriate academic authorities when necessary. The authors bear full responsibility for the content presented in this blog and any potential consequences resulting from it.

This article was written by Esthefania Cardenas, intern at RWI. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Human Rights Studies at Lund University, and previously obtained a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Anthropology. Esthefania is interested in the areas of Access to Justice and Non-discrimination and Inclusion, especially contexts of emergencies.


Biodiversity loss, climate change and anthropogenic impacts such as the irresponsible exploitation of nature are major challenges that have not only environmental, but also economic, cultural and social implications for current and future generations. In commemoration of the Day of Biological Diversity, it is essential to reflect on these issues and on actions to remedy environmental damage and protect the most vulnerable populations from these risks.  

In this regard, assessment reports by IPBES and UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights emphasize the need to act urgently on the negative effects of  biodiversity loss and ecosystems degradation. One of the most important warnings highlights that without a political and economic transformation that prioritizes environmental recovery and sustainability, human rights violations may deepen in the coming years.  

To address this vital connection between biodiversity and human rights, scholars have used the concept of  “Biosphere Defenders” initially coined by Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights’ thematic lead on human rights and environment, Dr. Claudia Ituarte-Lima and then further elaborated with partners Dr. Maria Andrea Nardi and Liisa Varumo.  The Biosphere Defenders concept and the Defend-Biosphere Framework acknowledges and builds on advances on international human rights law and environmental law on environmental human rights defenders (EHRD) and takes them to the next level. This shift is in favor of creating a narrative that does not conflates vulnerability with powerlessness and weakness. Furthermore, the biosphere defenders concept places a spotlight not only on threats that defenders face but on the social-ecological alternatives to unsustainable development and an understanding that humans are part of the biosphere or a Living Earth.   

These defenders play a key role in promoting pathways to just sustainability and strive to promote open information, public participation and access to justice for a healthy environment. In this sense, the proposal is to seriously consider environmental defenders and human rights defenders as agents of change and redefine the predominant narratives about these defenders, highlighting their agency, solidarity and collective rights as drivers of transformations towards just sustainability.  

Examples around the work of Biosphere Advocates abound. As explained by Claudia Ituarte-Lima; Maria Andrea Nardi and Liisa Varumo (2023), cases such as the Wayuu women as biosphere defenders in La Guajira, Colombia, or the efforts of local farmers in the Ferias Francas in Argentina, and even the case of the 9 Woaorani girls, defenders of nature in Ecuador, who sued the state for the elimination of gas lighters that have contaminated and damaged health in their territories show how the use of open information and public participation play a central role in accessing justice, building resistance strategies against extraction and creating economies that are align rather than exploitative with the territories’ life support systems.  

In summary, this innovative approach highlights the importance of recognizing the rights and roles of biosphere defenders in promoting sustainability and environmental justice. It also highlights the interconnection between human rights and the environment and calls for collaborative efforts among diverse actors to achieve positive social-ecological outcomes. This makes it clear that the right to a healthy environment recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2022 is essential to address current environmental, economic and political challenges and to promote a transition to sustainability.  


Diaz et al. (eds) (2019), IPBES Summary for Policymakers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the Intergovernmental Science, Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn: Germany.  

Ituarte-Lima, Claudia. ‘Biosphere Defenders Leveraging the Human Right to Healthy Environment for Transformative Change’. 1 Jan. 2023 : 139 – 151. 

Ituarte-Lima, Claudia, Nardi, Maria Andrea, and Varumo, Liisa. ‘Just Pathways to Sustainability: From Environmental Human Rights Defenders to Biosphere Defenders’. 1 Jan. 2023 : 347 – 366 

OHCHR (2019), Full List of UN Experts at news ‘Failing to Protect Biodiversity Can Be A Human Rights Violation UN experts’ (25 June 2019) available at: (accessed on 10 October, 2023)  

UNGA (2022), The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, A/RES/76/300 (28 July 2022); available at: (accessed on 16 October, 2023)  


Featured image by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash


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