Paradise, watching a marvellous coloured sunset with someone you love; hearing birds singing and wishing you a good morning; feeling the waves against your skin as you walk through the beach; tasting the sweet flavour of your favourite fruit on a summer day; smelling the freshness of the autumn forest. So many memories and experiences. So many happy moments that one may hold so dear, could simply become an illusion or an unrealistic dream for a future generation…
Climate change is threatening all aspects of human life. The impact of environment deterioration on human life and well-being is so vast, that human rights are at risk. Consequently, this situation inspired the Council of Europe to publish an amazing manual on human rights and the environment. This manual explains why it is the state’s duty to act upon climate change. It presents environmental derived principles from the European Social Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and from the European Social Charter (ESC). “The main aim of this manual is to increase the understanding of the relationship between the protection of human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”) and the environment and thereby to contribute to strengthening environmental protection at the national level.” Furthermore, this manual is aimed at public authorities, legal professionals, decision makers as well as the public in general.
Technically, neither the charter nor the convention provides a general protection to the environment or expressly guarantees a right to a sound, quiet and healthy environment. However, through law-cases, conventions, charters and laws guaranteeing human rights, authorities abide to do what necessary to assure their protection. In the same way, states must act to prevent any avoidable violation to human rights. If climate change or environmental factors endanger human rights, the state must act in strengthening the ecosystem’s protection to avoid this situation. For instance, the rights guaranteed by the (ECHR) that are negatively affected by environmental factors which have been recognised through Court cases are the following:
- The right to life (article 2) through notably: natural disasters, viruses transmitted through flooding or dangerous toxins emitted by industries;
- The right to respect for private and family life as well as the home, which could be endangered by the rising sea level or by environmental disasters affecting habitation on coastal regions. However, this manual highlights mostly the decline of mental and physical well-being due to environmental factors (Article 8);
- The right to a fair trial and to have access to a court (Article 6);
- The right to receive and impart information and ideas (Article 10) considering notably the “climate denial” phenomenon, but mostly affected by the strong public interest in enabling individuals and groups to participate in the debate. This manual also expresses the importance of having access to information because it could allay fears and enable individuals to assess the environmental danger to which they may be exposed.;
- The right to an effective legal remedy (Article 13). The manual argues that people who had their rights violated due to the negligence or passive approach of authorities regarding environmental degradation, should have a better access to justice for them to claim their rights and defend the public interest;
- The right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions can be notably affected by the deterioration of goods due to environmental degradation. However, this manual highlights the dilemma of protecting the environment with more strict regulations while guaranteeing the free disposition and enjoyment of private goods. (Article 1 of Protocol No. 1).
- The issue of passive smoking has been raised in relation to the right to prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3 of the Convention 1) but presently there has not been enough evidence and case law to draw up any clear principles on environmental protection at the European level.
- Likewise, the Committee has interpreted the right to protection of health (Article 11) under the European Social Charter as including the right to a healthy environment.
“A word from the author”
Hopefully, this impressively accurate and very complete manual shall influence authorities and inspire communities worldwide to take a stand for human welfare. It is important to understand that human rights are a great innovation and must not be taken for granted. Having guaranteed rights is a marvellous protection that we must preserve. Climate change and its impacts have been for too long, denied and ignored. It is time to let our voices shoutout for justice and protection. Currently, no comprehensive legally binding instrument for the protection of the environment exists globally. Meanwhile, various specific legally binding instruments and political documents have been adopted at the international and European levels to ensure environmental protection.
This fight is not over! Humanity must fight for a sustainable and healthy environment. Dear authorities, we will keep speaking and defending our rights!
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.