The 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Reykjavík on 16-17 May 2023, adopted the Reykjavík Declaration including the Appendix V on "The Council of Europe and the environment", and underlined “the urgency of additional efforts to protect the environment, as well as to counter the impact of the triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity on human rights, democracy and the rule of law”, while committing the Council of Europe to strengthening its work “on the human rights aspects of the environment and initiate the Reykjavík process of focusing and strengthening the work of the Council of Europe in this field”.

The Reykjavík process gathered steam in 2023 throughout the organisation, culminating in the creation of a Department on the Reykjavík process and the Environment in the Directorate General on Human Rights and Rule of Law on 1 January 2024, as well as an Inter-Secretariat Task Force on the Environment which will develop a Strategy and an Action Plan on the Council of Europe and the Environment, in liaison with member States.

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 2021 on Article 11 of Charter.

The Committee of Ministers adopted in 2022 a landmark Recommendation on human rights and the protection of the environment, calling on its member states to actively consider recognising, at national level, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as a human right.

The Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), which had elaborated the Recommendation, has been given a mandate by the Committee of Ministers to  report on the need for and feasibility of a further instrument or instruments in this field, including a possible binding instrument.

In Recommendation 2245 (2023) “The Reykjavik Summit of the Council of Europe: United around values in the face of extraordinary challenges”, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, responding to pressing and widespread public demands for governments to tackle climate change and prioritise long-term environmental sustainability over immediate economic concerns, called on the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe to:

. take the lead, on behalf of the Council of Europe, in establishing environmental protection as a right while reiterating the commitment to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase, in line with the Paris Agreement;

. support the drafting of a legally binding Council of Europe framework to guarantee the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, in line with Resolution 2396 (2022) “Anchoring the right to a healthy environment: need for enhanced action by the Council of Europe”;

. ask for the creation of a Council of Europe committee to act as a platform to share information, promote best practice, provide legal advice and develop tools for evaluating policies and legislation in the area of environmental protection and the fight against climate change.


By adopting Recommendation 2211 (2021) “Anchoring the right to a healthy environment: need for enhanced action by the Council of Europe”, the Parliamentary Assembly recommended, inter alia, that the Committee of Ministers (i) draw up an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and (ii) draw up an additional protocol to the European Social Charter on the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

In February 2022, the CDDH published the 3rd edition of its Manual on Human Rights and the Environment, which examines how the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter, in particular, contribute to the strengthening of environmental protection at national level, through the evolving case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the conclusions and decisions of the European Committee on Social Rights. The Manual also includes examples of good national practices amongst member States in an appendix.

The HELP course on The Environment and Human Rights the following modules:

  • Key concepts
  • The human rights-based approach to the environment protection
  • Green human rights in regional human rights systems
  • Human rights accountability for environmental harm done by business

The course has been produced closely linked with the update of the HELP course on Business and Human Rights, in cooperation with the Council of Europe Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH). Both course are interlinked but can be taken separately. The course on Business and Human Rights has the following modules:

  • Introduction
  • Pillar One: the State Duty to Protect
  • Pillar Two: the Corporate Responsibility to Respect
  • Pillar Three: an Effective Remedy
  • Extraterritoriality


Responding to a particular interest of the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape (CDCPP) on climate change impact on its domains of competence, a special thematic session on Climate change and sustainable development as it relates to culture, heritage and landscape was organised in 2019 and paved the way to the Recommendation CM/Rec(2022)15 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the role of culture, cultural heritage and landscape in helping to address global challenges adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 20 May 2022. As described in its Methodology guidelines, the European Heritage Strategy for the 21st century approach is based on cross-sectoral cooperation of stakeholders in cultural heritage work to contribute to countering the growing climate change threats to cultural heritage.


The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) has 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 Bern Convention has also adopted a Vision document for the period to 2030 which highlights its contribution to combatting climate change, as well as a Strategic Plan putting the Vision into practice together with a recommendation on its implementation.

The Bern Convention is focusing its efforts on the implementation of its Programme of Work on Climate Change and Biodiversity with a dedicated Group of experts, and in particular the development of healthy ecosystems through the establishment of a pan-European network of areas of special conservation interest (Emerald Network). The adaptive management of the Emerald Network areas is one of its main objectives.

The EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement contributed, together with the UNDRR and DG ECHO to the organisation of the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR), held in a hybrid format in Matosinhos (Portugal) in  November 2021. The Forum, true to the multi-stakeholder spirit of the Sendai Framework, was an important vehicle to address regional disaster risk challenges. It served as a forum for stakeholders to take a shared responsibility and make actionable commitments to reduce disaster risk, thus contributing to the Agenda 2030. The Deputy Secretary General delivered an address at the Opening Ceremony.

Building on the outcomes of the European Forum, EUR-OPA contributed to the UNDRR thematic work with the aim to improve heat and wildfire risks governance (Athens, October 2022), to ensure evidence-based communication (Bucharest, February 2023) and to reinforce community engagement in disaster risk reduction (Helsinki, December 2023).

The Council of Europe has made significant efforts to engage with and provide spaces for young people to address the climate crisis. For example, Compass: Manual on Human Rights Education with Young People includes a section on the environment and provides educational resources that can be used when working with young people during training. Meanwhile, to support efforts to put climate change and its impact on young people on the international political agenda, the Council of Europe’s Youth Department has undertaken various steps to promote ecologically neutral or positive projects to support initiatives aiming to “green” the youth sector. These include the Consultative meeting "The climate crisis, young people and democracy", the establishment of a task force on greening the youth sector by the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ), and resources such as the European Youth Foundation’s Guidelines towards Environmental Sustainability for projects (2014).

Work has started on a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member states on young people and climate action. The aim is to address the challenges faced by all young people, and in particular young environmental defenders, especially when advocating for a healthy, clean and sustainable environment, including the exercise, enjoyment and fulfilment of their fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Climate action is one of the top priorities of young people in Europe, however they are often excluded from decision-making processes, their demands remain unheard and ignored and they lack the necessary support and resources for their climate advocacy, and adequate social and legal protection.

The European Youth Centres in Strasbourg and Budapest have also implemented a range of initiatives to ensure sustainable and green activities, such as Meatless Mondays in Budapest, the use of non-disposable cups and cutlery, the introduction of water fountains in the Centres, and providing bicycles to participants, to name a few.

The EU-Council of Europe youth partnership has developed several resources, including the Sustainability Checklist for greening the youth sector (EN, FR), T-KIT on Sustainability and Youth Work and the analytical paper Disobedient youth : Lessons from the youth climate strike movement. A practical workshop “Sustainability in youth projects” organised in co-operation with the European Youth Foundation, as well as other research papers and resources.  Sustainability and climate change is also a priority area of the European Platform on Learning Mobility (EPLM).

In 2023, the European Youth Foundation provided funding and educational support to five national and international youth non-governmental organisations for their projects in Europe addressing the impact of the climate crisis and environmental degradation on young people and democracy.

The Partial Agreement on Youth Mobility through the Youth Card debated Youth as promoters of sustainability: the European Youth Card as a tool to reinforce sustainable mobility, during a seminar in 2023. The aim was to create synergies between public sector, youth card organisations, youth NGOs, young people and companies to advance sustainability in youth mobility and to identify ways to use the card to provide young people with green and digital services in smart cities.

The Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), in the framework of its unique social mandate, focuses on the people-planet-prosperity equation through a people-centred lens that considers how people are impacted by climate change and by the transition to a climate neutral and resilient future. The Bank systematically applies the vulnerability lens to its lending activities to enhance their social cohesion value.

The Strategic Framework 2023-2027 identifies three cross-cutting themes that interact with the CEB’s core sectors of activity and are instrumental to achieving progress on social cohesion: (i) Climate action; (ii) Gender equality and (iii) Digitalisation.

To address climate considerations, the CEB is committed to: (i) align its activities with the Paris Agreement, ensuring compatibility with the climate goals and improving the tracking of green and climate action finance; and (ii) apply the climate-social nexus approach to social investment to achieve greater impact.

The CEB supports the financing of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects and non-climate action projects which generate environmental benefits and aim at improving adaptation or enhancing resilience to climate-related risks.


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”Resolution 2396 (2021) and Recommendation 2211 (2021) on “Anchoring the right to a healthy environment: need for enhanced action by the Council of Europe”, Resolution 2399 (2021) and Recommendation 2214 (2021) on “The climate crisis and the rule of law” were adopted by the Assembly in 2021 as part of an all-day debate during the September part-session. In January 2022, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2415 (2022) and Recommendation 2219 (2022) on “Inaction on climate change – a violation of children’s rights”. On 27 January 2022, the launching meeting of the Network of Contact Parliamentarians for a healthy environment was held. In 2023, Resolution 2493 (2023) and Recommendation 2251 (2023) on “Political strategies to prevent, prepare for, and face the consequences of natural disasters” were adopted.

Reports on “Towards Council of Europe strategies against the climate crisis for healthy seas and oceans”, “Safeguarding human rights for future generations”, “Analysis and guidelines for a sustainable and socially fair energy transition”, and “Ensuring a healthy, sustainable and secure food supply” are currently in preparation by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

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. 

PACE initiative #EnvironmentRightNow to anchor the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was launched during the Assembly’s 4th part-session of 2021 and led to the adoption of seven resolutions and five recommendations on the environment and climate change, including Resolution 2401 (2021) on Climate and migration. In this text, the Assembly called for strengthening human rights protection for those affected by climate-change-induced migration in Europe and beyond, acting on the following pillars: ensuring human rights protection for people who are forced to migrate by climate-change-induced disasters or hardship; using science and technology to serve people and save lives; improving development co-operation and emergency support in the countries of origin of migrants; and preventing environment degradation that multiply the effects of climate change. The rapporteur, Mr Pierre-Alain Fridez, also did a podcast on this issue.

To provide further support to UN-led initiatives in the field of migration, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted in 2021 the following texts: Resolution 2379 (2021) on the “Role of parliaments in implementing the United Nations global compacts for migrants and refugees” and Resolution 2408 (2021) on the “70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention: the Council of Europe and the international protection of refugees”.

Assembly Resolution 2397 (2021) “More participatory democracy to tackle climate change” aims at enhancing the active involvement of citizens in, and thus a greater support for, public action to address the climate challenge. (SDGs 13 and 16.7)

Resolution 2402 (2021) Research policies and environment protection calls on Council of Europe member States to review their research, innovation and development policies, in order to give the highest priority to the green economy, so as to bring economic development into line with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. In this context, the Assembly calls on member States to develop specific research programmes on renewable energies and on the circular economy.

In its Resolution 2398 (2021) and Recommendation 2213 (2021) on “Addressing issues of criminal and civil liability in the context of climate change”, based on a report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Assembly also pointed that two Council of Europe treaties aimed at strengthening environmental protection – the 1998 Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law (ETS No. 172) and the 1993 Convention on Civil Liability for Damage Resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment (ETS No. 150) – had not attracted the number of ratifications necessary to enter into force. It therefore called on member States to reflect on whether there was a need to revise or replace these treaties (in particular Convention No. 172) in order to adapt them to the current challenges related to climate change. It also stressed the need to provide access to judicial remedies, both to prevent and compensate for damages caused by climate change.

The 2021 European Conference of Presidents of Parliament took place in Athens on 21-22 October 2021 and brought together some 60 Presidents and Vice-Presidents of parliament from the 46 Council of Europe member states, as well as of countries enjoying the status of observer or partner for democracy, and heads of several international parliamentary assemblies. The conference addressed three main themes, including that of '#EnvironmentRightNow': national parliaments and the right to a healthy and sustainable environmentunderlining for each of them the specific role and responsibilities of parliaments. The conclusions of the conference are available on its website.

The achievement of the SDGs is a responsibility shared by all levels of governance - international, national, local and regional. Thanks to its expertise and proximity to the citizens, the Congress of the Council of Europe carries the territorial dimension of the SDGs. The Congress's work focuses on 12 of the 17 objectives defined in the United Nations Agenda 2030.»

For the last two decades, the Congress has been working on the different aspects related to the quality of the environment, the impact of climate change on citizen’s lives and energy transition.

The basic premise of Congress action is that local and regional authorities are required to adopt strategies to respond to environmental challenges and adapt their communities accordingly. This approach is carried out through the improvement of education, awareness and human and institutional capacities, as well as progress in fields such as transport, recycling, water and waste management, production and consumption of local products and tourism.

The approach of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is based on three key principles: achieving SDGs is the shared responsibility of all levels of government; local and regional authorities must have the necessary competences and financial autonomy to achieve the goals in their respective areas; citizens must always remain at the heart of the action.

For the last two decades, the Congress has been working on the different aspects related to the quality of the environment, the impact of climate change on citizen’s lives and energy transition. This is one of Congress’ priorities as declared by the Congress President during the World Environment Day. The basic premise of Congress action – also shared by the Council of Europe Secretary General – is that local and regional authorities are required to adopt strategies to respond to environmental challenges and adapt their communities accordingly. This approach is carried out through the improvement of education, awareness and human and institutional capacities, as well as progress in fields such as transport, recycling, water and waste management, production and consumption of local products and tourism.

The texts adopted by the Congress relevant to SDG 13 have been grouped under three headings: quality of the environment, climate change and energy transition.

Adopted texts related to SDG 13 and the quality of the environment:

Adopted texts related to SDG 13 and climate change:

Adopted texts related to SDG 13 and energy transition:

  • RES335 (2011) - Energy supply and energy efficiency at local and regional level: promoting energy transition
  • REC191 (2006) and RES215 (2006) - Chernobyl, 20 years on: local and regional authorities dealing with disasters


Environmental issues have been examined by the European Court of Human Rights in a large number of cases which have led to significant reforms in European states in order to safeguard and protect one’s living environment.

See Thematic Factsheet on Environment.


In her written observations and oral submission to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Cláudia Duarte Agostinho and others v. Portugal and 32 other States, the Commissioner for Human Rights focuses on the negative impact of climate change on a range of human rights, in particular those of younger generations. In the Human Rights Comment ‘Crackdowns on peaceful environmental protests should stop and give way to more social dialogue’, the Commissioner stressed the importance of protecting the right to peaceful assembly of environmental activists.


See the Commissioner’s thematic webpage on Environment and human rights.

See also: