13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
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 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 a new report on “Climate change and implementation of the Paris Agreement” is currently under preparation (Jan. 2018).
The Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Stateless Persons regularly examines the effects of climate change on migratory flows, in particular in Resolution 2115 (2016) on Forced migration: a new challenge. A report is currently under preparation (Jan. 2018) on “A legal status for ‘climate refugees’?”, to prepare recommendations on the management of future waves of migration due to environmental degradation.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted the following texts of relevance:
- RES335(2011): Energy supply and energy efficiency at local and regional level: promoting energy transition;
- Resolution 317(2010): Coastal towns and cities tackling threats from the sea;
- Recommendation 298(2010): Coastal towns and cities tackling threats from the sea;
- RES(2010)298: After Copenhagen, cities and regions take up the challenge;
- REC(2010)281: After Copenhagen, cities and regions take up the challenge;
- Resolution 288 (2009) on ’’The global challenge of climate change: Local responses’’;
- REC(2009)271: The global challenge of climate change: Local responses;
- RES(2008)262 Public local and regional action: for a new energy culture;
- REC(2008)243: Public local and regional action: for a new energy culture;
- RES(2008)248: Climate change: building adaptive capacity of local and regional authorities;
- REC(2008)231: Climate change: building adaptive capacity of local and regional authorities;
- RES(2007)236: Climate Change: approaches at local and regional level;
- REC(2007)215: Climate Change: approaches at local and regional level;