Our environment is under extreme pressure. We face a triple planetary crisis of pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and the terrible advance of climate change, caused by human activity.
I believe few of us will forget the summer we had this year.
Not because of the nice hikes in the mountains, or the lovely evenings by the sea –
But because of the violent and deadly floods, wildfires and the extreme temperatures that went on and on.
And the heatwaves are believed to have caused tens of thousands of deaths in the Southern Mediterranean.
The devastating floods in Slovenia and Cyprus, Austria and Norway, as well as in Georgia and Bulgaria –
In Greece, the largest wildfires ever recorded in the European Union –
And on top of it, the hottest summer on record.
While we had to struggle with extreme temperatures in many parts of our continent.
This is not a coincidence.
The changes we are seeing are caused directly or indirectly by human activity and all of this underlines the need for urgent climate action.
What we now experience is probably the greatest challenge of our times.
Because it effects all of us. Rich and poor. Smaller and larger countries, and the entire world community.
At our Summit of Heads of State and Government in Reykjavík, European leaders were clear about the importance of urgent, co-ordinated action.
They acknowledged that human rights and the environment are intertwined.
And they recognised that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential to the full enjoyment of those rights.
The Reykjavík Declaration committed us to specific, concrete steps –
And two key intergovernmental initiatives are now underway –
Both of which will benefit greatly from your input.
The first is the study on the feasibility of a new initiative – a new international treaty, or another type of relevant initiative, we will see – on human rights and the environment.
This is now under negotiation by our Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH).
Its mandate refers explicitly to the Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendation on “Anchoring the right to a healthy environment” –
And its work has benefitted from the insights and advice of the Assembly’s rapporteur, Simon Moutquin.
Civil society representatives and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have also made important contributions to the process.
Some of the issues discussed are highly complex and sensitive, with far-reaching consequences.
The outcome of the feasibility study is expected next June.
The second important initiative that we are now taking, is the work on an updated and new Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law.
Designed to combat environmental crime –
Which so often does so much extraordinary damage to our air, land and sea –
Not to mention all those people who are harmed by it.
A dedicated committee has been set up to lead the work.
This will also benefit from the contribution of a range of stakeholders – including national experts, civil society, as well as the European Union and the United Nations –
And also the active contribution of Assembly members.
Negotiations will begin next week, at the Committee’s second meeting, where we can expect lively and interesting debates, given the scale and complexity of the challenge.
Of course, this is not the first time that the Council of Europe has negotiated specific tools to protect the environment.
The Reykjavík Declaration itself also refers to the importance of our Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats –
Our Landscape Convention –
And our EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement.
At the same time, we are also taking a closer look at how we have organised our work on the environment within the Secretariat.
We are therefore now taking new, important and concrete steps to see how we can streamline this work and make it function even better.
We want to bring all of those who work on the environment together under one roof – under one entity – instead of having it spread out around the various parts of the Secretariat.
In concrete terms we are moving the staff and resources currently working on environmental issues from DGII – our Directorate of Democracy and Human Dignity – and bring it alongside the important work that is currently taking place on the environment and human rights in DGI – our Directorate General for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (which Christos leads).
Again, in order to strengthen it, but also to ensure its coherence.
But to maximise the impact of this vital work of our organisation – initiatives both long-standing and new – we need the support and commitment of member states and parliamentarians alike – especially now that we are discussing the Budget for the next two years -
Including of course, your important Network, whose work is both inspiring and helpful.
The Secretariat will remain ready to collaborate closely with you and also support the Committee of Ministers in implementing the commitments made at Reykjavík.
The air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we live on are indeed in peril.
Few have said it better than UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres:
“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. The air is unbreathable. The heat is unbearable. And the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable.”
It is still not too late.
But we must act.
And we in the Council of Europe can play a very important role when it comes to this fundamental challenge.
But again, it is about coming together and working together, both internally, within the Council of Europe, and externally – in our co-operation and contacts with other international organisations, such as the UN and the EU, as well as civil society.
Finally, I thank you for this opportunity to say a few words on this vital challenge for all of us in Europe and the entire globe, if not to humankind.