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.
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.
Ahead of a series of Parliamentary Assembly debates on the right to a healthy environment, the Council of Europe has published a new “environment” section of its dedicated website highlighting the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights. The new section includes ten case studies showing...
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...
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
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