Protecting the environment using human rights law
In recent years, there has been a growing trend in people and organisations also using Europe’s unparalleled system for protecting human rights to help tackle environmental problems.
A number of the international legal standards developed by the Council of Europe – notably including the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats – have successfully been invoked to help make progress on environmental issues.
The European Court of Human Rights has so far ruled on some 300 environment-related cases, applying concepts such as the right to life, free speech and family life to a wide range of issues including pollution, man-made or natural disasters and access to environmental information.
The European Convention on Human Rights has also been used by campaigners at the national level to encourage governments to take further steps to tackle climate change and the degradation of the natural environment.
Successive Council of Europe presidencies, and various other organs of the organisation, have called for existing legal tools to be further strengthened in order to help European states deal with the considerable environmental challenges that we all face.
Prosecutors have a key role in addressing environmental crime, and law enforcement is essential to strengthen the rule of law on which environmental governance is based. An Opinion of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors considers the guiding principles on environmental protection and sets out guidelines and recommendations for action of prosecutors in criminal, administrative and civil proceedings in environmental cases.
Negotiations start in Strasbourg on a new convention on the protection of the environment through criminal law
3 April 2023
Environmental crime was in focus when the Council of Europe Committee of experts on the protection of the environment through Criminal Law held its first meeting in Strasbourg.
In his opening remarks, Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge emphasised that environmental crime has been growing at 2-3 times the rate of the global economy, with proceeds from environmental offences being on the same scale as other financial crimes.
“Environmental crimes are sometimes committed for profit but with destructive consequences, they damage our health and well-being, as well as the security of our food supply. They can also harm through industrial pollution and dangerous industrial activities. The meeting today is a first step for the Council of Europe taking the lead in the human rights protection of the environment through its expertise and jurisprudence in this area”, he said.
Since 1977 the Council of Europe has recognised the “contribution of criminal law to the protection of the environment” and is now drafting a new global Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law. On 23 November 2022, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the Terms of Reference for a new Committee of Experts on the Protection of the Environment though Criminal Law (PC-ENV).
Speech by Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge
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“Climate litigation – what you need to know”
What is the relationship between the environment and the protection of human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights? How can human rights law contribute to strengthening environmental protection at national level? What is the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights?
Find out more about the dynamics of environmental litigation in Europe
Safeguards built into the European Convention on Human Rights are working to promote environmental protections.
See some examples of how the ECHR is addressing human rights issues related to the environment.
- 03.05.2023 - The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in practice
- 05.10.2020 - Human Rights for the Planet
- 27.02.2020 - Environmental Protection and Human Rights
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