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.

Right to a healthy environment: reducing inequalities, protecting the rights of climate migrants and promoting research and development policies

30 September 2021

Adopting a resolution today in Strasbourg, based on a report by Edite Estrela (Portugal, SOC), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said that access to the fundamental right to a safe, clean and healthy environment was unequally shared between regions, countries and individuals, stressing that the effects of climate change impacted poor countries disproportionately, as well as disadvantaged groups, minorities, women and children.

The adopted text proposes a set of measures to combat inequalities in the right to a healthy environment resulting from economic differences between and within countries. “Any new legally binding instrument on the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment must address all of the sources of inequality, with the aim of minimising them,” the Assembly said.

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2020 North-South Prize Award Ceremony: focus on right to life and climate change

North-South Centre 7 December 2021 Strasbourg

The 2020 North-South Prize of the Council of Europe (Assembly of the Portuguese Republic, Lisbon, 9 December, 12 pm) will be awarded to the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), represented by its President, Judge Navanethem Pillay, in recognition of its contribution to the...

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Council of Europe 22 November 2021 Strasbourg

Earthquakes, floods, landslides, debris flows, avalanches, droughts, mudslides, and extreme temperatures: the effect of climate change needs a holistic approach to disaster risk to mitigate the worst impacts of the biological hazards. The 2021 European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction...

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World Forum for Democracy 2021: “Can democracy save the environment?”

World Forum for Democracy 2 November 2021 Strasbourg

The World Forum for Democracy will bring together intellectuals, politicians, activists, experts and young people from all over the world from 8 to 10 November to answer the question “Can democracy save the environment” after a year-long, worldwide, online debate about democracy and the...

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Using human rights to address environmental issues


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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

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