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 parts 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.
First climate change application to be examined by the Court
30 November 2020
The European Court of Human Rights has formally asked 33 Council of Europe member states to respond to a climate change lawsuit brought by six young campaigners from Portugal. The case concerns greenhouse gas emissions which are believed to be contributing to global warming and manifested, among other things, by heat waves which would impact the living conditions and health of the applicants. The applicants, aged between 8 and 21 years, claim that the forest fires that Portugal has experienced every year for several years, in particular since 2017, are the direct result of global warming to which such emissions have contributed.
In 2017 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a group of dedicated grassroots environmental activists staged a 500-day-long protest against the construction of new hydropower dams on the Kruščica river. The fight led by local women, who later came to be known as the Brave Women of Kruščica, met with many...
The Council of Europe’s HELP programme (Human rights Education for Legal Professionals) has launched a new online course on the environment and human rights. The six-hour course, which is available free of charge via the HELP online platform, has been developed by experts on the European...
Judge Tim Eicke, judge in respect of the United Kingdom at the European Court of Human Rights, has delivered the Goldsmiths Law inaugural annual human rights lecture, entitled “Human Rights and Climate Change: What Role for the European Convention on Human Rights?”, at an online event on Tuesday...
Using human rights to address environmental issues
“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
- Balancing economic, social, cultural and environmental needs - the Landscape Award Alliance
- Biodiversity and climate change –Bern Convention guidance
- Biodiversity conservation and protected areas
- Conserving wild flora and fauna and their habitats – the Bern Convention
- Economic impact of the Council of Europe Cultural Routes in the EU macro-regions – Routes 4U
- Human rights and the environment – a manual
- Human rights, democracy, sustainable development and the European Landscape Convention
- Implementation of the European Landscape Convention – reflections and proposals
- Landscape and sustainable development – challenges of the European Landscape Convention
- Spatial planning and landscape – a glossary
- Sustainability and youth work – a training kit
- The Emerald Network - A tool for the protection of natural habitats
- What is the European Landscape Convention?