5 June 2018

 

Wold Environment Day was established in 1972 by the United Nations to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. It has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries, focusing on environmental concerns ranging from pollution to global warming and sustainable food production to protection of wildlife.

 

History of human rights and the environment

Human rights law provides an important way to protect the environment. As the UN Stockholm Declaration makes clear “both aspects of man’s environment, the natural and manmade, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights – even the right to life itself”. It goes on to stress that everyone “has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations”

 

Our rights and real life protection

The human rights in our Human Rights Act are drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights and whilst there is no specific right to a healthy environment, it can still offer important protection. Cases have found that some of our human rights can be undermined by the existence of harm to the environment and exposure to environmental risks. Legal cases have shown that environmental factors can affect human rights in three different ways:

  • Human rights such as the right to life and respect for private and family life may be directly affected by adverse environmental factors, e.g. toxic smells from a factory or rubbish tip might have a negative impact on the health of individuals. Public authorities may have obligations to take measures to ensure that human rights are not seriously affected by adverse environmental factors.
  • Adverse environmental factors trigger rights around procedures and process, such as those involving access to a court under fair trial or to receive and impart information and ideas, because public authorities must observe certain requirements around information and communication, participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental cases.
  • Protecting the environment may also be a legitimate aim justifying interference with a person’s rights, such as restricting someone’s peaceful enjoyment of possessions to protection of the environment.

For example, Mr Öneryıldız’s lived in a “slum” dwelling; his home was built without authorisation on land surrounding a rubbish tip used jointly by four district councils in Turkey. There was a methane explosion and refuse erupting from the pile of waste engulfed more than ten houses, including Mr Öneryıldız’s, who lost nine close relatives. Mr Öneryıldız went to the European Court of Human Rights because he believed authorities had not taken measures to prevent an explosion despite an expert report having drawn the authorities’ attention to the need to act preventively as such an explosion was not unlikely. The Court found the right to life had been because of the lack of adequate legal protection for the right to life. The Court noted that the government had not provided people living in the “slums” with information about the risks they ran by living there. Even if it had, the government was still responsible because it had not taken the necessary practical measures to avoid the risks to people’s lives. The regulatory framework was defective allowing the tip to open and operate without a coherent supervisory system, and town-planning policy had also been inadequate, both of which had undoubtedly played a part in the sequence of events leading to the accident. The Court also found the right to protection of property had been violated.

 

Take action, join in!

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundation for our modern human rights laws, including our Human Rights. Show your support for universal human rights and sign our digital 70th anniversary card for universal human rights here, it's a quick and simple way to have your voice heard and join others across the UK. Join the discussion on social media using #celebrating70. We'd love for you to join the conversation.