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A legal right to a healthy environment would push governments and parliaments to ‘go green’

PACE President Rik Daems has again called for the drawing up of a protocol to the European Convention of Human Rights guaranteeing a right to a healthy environment, pointing out this would help push governments and parliaments to “go green”.

Speaking at the “Human Rights for the Planet” virtual conference, the Assembly President said almost everyone agreed that governments and parliaments had been “far too slow” to tackle the environment.

He paid tribute to the Strasbourg Court – as well as other regional and national courts – for filling the gap by developing case-law on the environment, resulting in a certain “greening” of human rights, but said this was not enough.

“If you want governments to move, and to do what is right in terms of the environment, you need the standards and laws in place to oblige them to do so. […] Once the environment is inscribed as a right, any citizen can go to court and demand their rights.”

A new protocol would give an additional push to governments and parliaments to develop “green” laws, strengthen their accountability for any failure to take action, and give courts a solid legal basis for adjudicating environmental cases, he said.

But even while a protocol was being negotiated, progress should continue using other avenues, the President said. He urged expanded “soft law” in the field of human rights and the environment, including a possible standard-setting recommendation from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. Times of crisis, he pointed out, could sometimes provide the opportunity to generate new standards.

Finally the President pledged the Assembly’s support for all efforts aimed at boosting environmental rights, pointing out that it would hold a full day’s debate on this topic at a future session, and that different committees were working on the issue from a number of different perspectives.