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.

News news

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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New factsheet on the execution of ECHR judgments concerning environment

Strasbourg 20 OCTOBER 2020
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New factsheet on the execution of ECHR judgments concerning environment

Although the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain an explicit right to a clean and quiet environment, the Court has developed its case-law and established that where an individual is directly and seriously affected by noise or other pollution, an issue may arise under the Convention. The Court has underlined that serious damage to the environment can affect the well-being of individuals. Also, States are not only obliged to refrain from arbitrary interference but also have the positive obligation to adopt reasonable and adequate measures to protect the rights of the individual.

Environmental issues have been examined by the Court in a large number of cases concerning various human rights. The factsheet focuses on the following major issues: ending and preventing environmental pollution and disasters; environmental risks, access to information and compensation; protection from noise and air pollution; access to courts; freedom of expression and property rights. It sets out several examples of measures adopted and reported by States, in the context of the execution of the European Court's judgments, in order to safeguard and protect one’s living environment.
New factsheet on environment
Thematic factsheets
ECtHR conference “Human Rights for the Planet

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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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