A series of PACE adopted texts are demanding a paradigm shift in international and national law, as well as government policies, to ensure that a healthy environment is recognised as a basic human right.
In an unprecedented all-day debate on 29th September, PACE members discussed a host of far-reaching proposals to “anchor” such a right in law, policy, practice and the public consciousness.
“As global leaders gather in October in Glasgow, it is clear the world is facing a growing climate emergency, with dramatic effects on human health and wellbeing,” according to PACE President Rik Daems, who has made this issue the main priority of his Presidency. “A healthy environment is essential for all of us – but it must become a legally-enforceable right if we are to make the huge changes our planet needs in the years ahead.”
One key demand is that a new right to “a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment” be added as a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which could make it legally enforceable in national courts across the continent and in the Strasbourg Court. The Council of Europe’s executive body, the Committee of Ministers, took no action on a similar proposal by the Assembly in 2009.
Proposals include more government regulation to strengthen corporate environmental responsibility, changes in criminal and civil liability to give greater protection to the biosphere, boosting participatory democracy as environmental concerns rise up the political agenda, and better harnessing the rule of law to tackle the climate crisis.
Other texts look at combating inequalities in the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment, how climate is affecting migration, and “greening” research policies.
A high-level event organised as part of the parliamentary debate contributed towards making a paradigm shift from considering environment as a policy to environment as a human right.
Participants included António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations; Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe; János Áder, President of Hungary; Roberto Fico, Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies; Eduardo Pinheiro, Secretary of State for Mobility, Portugal; Tim Eicke, Judge, European Court of Human Rights; and Anuna de Wever Van der Heyden, Climate and Human Rights activist.
The event made a strong call for strengthening multilateralism in responding to the environmental challenges and voice support to international commitments towards the achievement of the UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right.
On 29 September, the PACE President launched in Strasbourg a 'hashtag' initiative to press for urgent action to make environment a human right.
Through the #EnvironmentRightNow initiative, Rik Daems wished that the message of "Let's make environnement a human right now" could expand beyond the parliamentary world to mobilise a maximum number of people.
"Dreams and reality are separated by laws. The Right to life is already a reality, but the Right to a healthy environment is still a dream.
As PACE President, I’ve put the issue of the environment and human rights as one of my political priorities.
Like many citizens and legislators, I believe environment should be anchored into solid legal foundations.
Because the right to live in a healthy, clean and safe environment should be part of the universal corpus of fundamental human rights.
Environment is a human right and it must be incorporated as such in the European Convention of Human Rights, which is and remains the constitutional instrument of Europe’s public legal order.
Join us if you want to make the Environment a Human Right, Now".