The European Social Charter, the human rights treaty on social and economic rights, guarantees the right to a healthy environment as part of the right to protection of health (Article 11). It entails firstly respect of the precautionary principle, i.e. when a preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern regarding potentially dangerous effects on human health, the State must take precautionary measures consistent with the high level of protection provided for in Article 11 of the Charter, to prevent those potentially dangerous effects.

Under the Charter overcoming pollution is an objective that can only be achieved gradually. Nevertheless, States Parties must strive to attain this objective within a reasonable time, by showing measurable progress and making best possible use of the resources at their disposal. The measures taken by States Parties are assessed with reference to their national legislation and regulations and undertakings entered into with regard to the European Union and the United Nations and in terms of how the relevant law is applied in practice.

In this respect, States Parties must:

  • develop and regularly update sufficiently comprehensive environmental legislation and regulations;
  • take specific steps, such as modifying equipment, introducing threshold values for emissions and measuring air quality, to prevent air pollution at local level and to help to reduce it on a global scale;
  • ensure that environmental standards and rules are properly applied, through appropriate supervisory machinery, effective and efficient, that is comprising measures which have been established to be sufficiently dissuasive and have a direct effect on polluting emission levels.

The European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) monitors the implementation of the Charter, not only in law, but also in practice. Under Article 11, the Committee examines for example aspects related to air and water pollution as well as risks related to asbestos or nuclear hazards. The ECSR examined the situation and measures taken by States Parties with regard to the right to a healthy environment in its Conclusions 2017 on Article 11 of Charter.

 

In the period 2009-2017, the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats developed a large set of standards (Recommendations) supporting and guiding action by its 51 Contracting Parties in embedding the consideration of biodiversity issues cross-sectorally and in developing a national coherent vision addressing both climate change adaptation and mitigating its inevitable impacts, namely on nature.

The Convention is focussing its efforts on the implementation of its ambitious Programme of Work on Climate Change and Biodiversity and in particular the development of healthy ecosystems through the establishment of a pan-European network of areas of species conservation interest (Emerald network). The issue of adaptive management of the Emerald Network areas is a main objective for the biennium 2018-2019.

 

The Articles of Agreement of the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) define the aid to victims of natural or ecological disasters as one of its statutory priorities and its Environmental and Social Safeguards Policy, approved in 2016, specifies the Bank’s commitment to promoting environmentally and socially sustainable project development and implementation taking into account the relevant Council of Europe conventions and the European Principles for the Environment.

The CEB has a long history of tackling environmental challenges, directly through the sector “Protection of the environment” and, indirectly through different loans approved in the sectors of action “Improving living conditions in urban and rural areas” and “Natural or ecological disasters”.

Projects funded in the area of environmental protection include, among others, the reduction and treatment of solid and liquid waste; clean-up and protection of surface and underground water; energy-saving and efficiency measures; protection and development of biodiversity; cleaner transport means and networks and climate change adaptation measures.

In the last three years, the CEB has approved 10 new projects and one additional request for an existing project in the sector of action “Protection of the environment”, for a total value of €1.08 billion. Seventeen other projects contributing to the protection of the environment have been approved in the same period as part of multi-sector interventions.

 

The Parliamentary Assembly, via its Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, has been a stakeholder in the international process on climate change through the UN Climate Change Conferences. It has promoted action in this area, for example through Resolution 1976 (2014) on Climate change: a framework for a global agreement in 2015; and Resolution 2210 (2018) on “Climate change and implementation of the Paris Agreement”. New reports are currently underway on “Inaction on climate change – a violation of children’s rights (Doc. 14947) and “Climate change and the rule of law: a baseline study (Doc. 14972). (as of January 2020).

On 3 October 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 2307 (2019) on A legal status for “climate refugees”. The report underlined that an estimated 200 million people would be displaced globally by 2050 because of climate change, and that the human mobility and displacement due to this degradation needed to be better anticipated. The interaction between climate change and conflict and violence should also be further assessed, and states must take “a more proactive approach to the protection of victims of natural and man-made disasters”, improving disaster preparedness mechanisms both in Europe and in other regions. Parliamentarians called for specific measures at local, national and international levels, to raise the resilience threshold of local communities, improve national disaster responses and management capacity, and to enhance legal protection of refugees in the context of environmental migration. Disaster risk reduction should be integrated into sustainable development and management policies. International legal provisions, such as those contained in the 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) could serve examples in relation to the obligation to protect persons displaced for environmental reasons.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted the following texts of relevance: