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 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.
Prosecutors have a key role in addressing environmental crime, and law enforcement is essential to strengthen the rule of law on which environmental governance is based. An Opinion of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors considers the guiding principles on environmental protection and sets out guidelines and recommendations for action of prosecutors in criminal, administrative and civil proceedings in environmental cases.
Environmental sustainability: a priority for social inclusion
2 August 2023
The Council of Europe Bank (CEB) works hard to keep the environmental footprint of its social investments as light as possible. Not only is this essential for our planet, but the Bank believes that social inclusion and progress on the environment, particularly climate action, go hand in hand, and that social and climate action can be mutually reinforcing.
The Bank plays an increasingly lead role in fostering a green transition, in part thanks to its rigorous compliance testing for approving loans and grants, as well its own growing technical expertise in climate-related issues.
The CEB works at the nexus of social and environmental efforts, seeing them as being mutually reinforcing: just as environmental sustainability is key for people’s wellbeing and livelihoods, and for social cohesion more broadly, so effective climate action depends on having everyone from all communities on board, including the most vulnerable.
The CEB funds are expected to benefit about 20 million inhabitants, and will help improve disaster responsiveness, strengthen physical capacity and critical infrastructures, against flash floods for instance, and enhance public awareness.
Hearing of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Others
Oral submission by Dunja Mijatović "Madam President, Distinguished members of the Court, I decided to intervene in this case concerning climate change because of its special importance for the protection of human rights and the environment, a priority of my mandate. There is no doubt that climate...
Environmental pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss are among the most urgent existential threats to humankind and to human rights. In response, many people in Europe and beyond have seen fit to take to the streets and to try new, often disruptive, forms of peaceful protest to demand...
With the urgent global challenges posed by environmental degradation and the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and nature and biodiversity loss, the question of the need for an autonomous right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment has never been more timely. On...
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
Safeguards built into the European Convention on Human Rights are working to promote environmental protections.
See some examples of how the ECHR is addressing human rights issues related to the environment.
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