In a Recommendation on human rights and the protection of the environment adopted today, the Council of Europe calls on its 46 member states to actively consider recognising, at national level, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as a human right.
Considering that measures to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution are essential to the better enjoyment of human rights, the Committee of Ministers underlines the increased recognition of some form of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in international legal instruments (including regional human rights instruments) and national constitutions, legislation and policies.
In the implementation of this Recommendation, member states should ensure respect for a number of principles, according to the Committee: general principles of international environmental law, such as the no harm principle, the principle of prevention, the principle of precaution and the polluter pays principle; the need for intergenerational equity; the no discrimination principle; access without discrimination to information and justice in environmental matters, participation in environmental decision-making and environmental education.
The Committee also expresses concern about the disproportionate effect environmental degradation may have and calls on member states to take adequate measures to protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable to, or at particular risk from, environmental harm.
In addition, the Recommendation stresses the importance for governments to co-operate with sub-national entities, civil society, national human rights institutions, regional institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights, environmental human rights defenders, economic stakeholders, indigenous peoples and local communities, cities and regions.
Finally, member states are encouraged to require business enterprises to act in compliance with their human rights responsibilities related to the environment.
The United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 48/13 of 8 October 2021 recognised the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right.
The Council of Europe’s long-standing commitment to environmental protection has resulted in the adoption of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (“Bern Convention”), the Convention on Civil Liability for Damage resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment, the Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law and the Landscape Convention.
The Council of Europe’s Manual on Human Rights and the Environment contains principles emerging from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and decisions and conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights.