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Human Rights and The Environment, towards a Right to Environment
Over the last decades it has become painfully clear that human activities can and do cause serious environmental problems. And that these problems, in turn, often result in grave harm to human beings.
Most recently our news tends to focus on environmental challenges humanity faces due to climate change. But there are many more environmental challenges. To name some here: marine life and eco systems being over exploited to the extent that it outweighs nature's ability to maintain it. Throughout the world, ancient forests are in crisis. Many of the plants and animals that live in our diverse ecosystems face extinction. And many of the people and cultures who depend on these ecosystems for their way of life are also under threat. Toxic chemicals threaten our rivers, our air, land, and oceans, and ultimately ourselves and our future.
The tension between environmental protection and economic development emerges time and again in day-to-day politics and discussions of sustainable development. More and more it is recognised that sound economic development ultimately depends on maintaining a healthy and ecologically sound environment. Although this acknowledgment is clear and true, over the long term current economic incentives and the configuration of international debt and global monetary funds create a significant bias that favours exploitation of the environment.
Responding to a growing environmental consciousness, many international treaties and local laws and regulations on environmental protection have been introduced in the second half of the 20th century. At first none of them quoted or referred to a human rights approach to environmental protection. But since the 1970’s, slowly but certainly, links between human rights and the environment have been recognised.
It has always been clear that human rights law and environmental law have an important element in common: they are both seen as a challenge to, or limitation on, the traditional understanding of state sovereignty as independence and autonomy. Despite their separate initial stages, it has become more and more acknowledged over the years that human rights and the environment are inherently interlinked. More and more people agree that a clean and healthy environment not only yields great benefits for human beings, but is essential to the realisation of fundamental human rights. To give some examples; the right to life, personal integrity, family life, health and development of each human being all depend on protecting the environment as the resource base for all life.
However, recent case law based on international conventions such as the American Convention on Human Rights and African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and other local, regional and international developments and initiatives – including the Millennium goals and the Earth Charter – have reaffirmed that environmental and human rights are strongly linked and that the right to a healthy environment is a fundamental part of the right to life and to personal integrity.
It is safe to say that links between human rights, health and environmental protection are today well established in international law, accepted by states in agreements and implemented in practice.
At this time there are several regional human rights charters and multiple national constitutions that contain an explicit articulation of a human right to a healthy environment. Although this has not yet been accepted in the European Convention on Human Rights or in a treaty at UN level, over the last decennia it has been considered more and more and to a greater extent that individuals should have a “Human Right to (a Clean and Healthy) Environment”.
The next step could and should be made in due time at European and UN level. To conceive and acknowledge the international human right to (a clean and healthy) environment.
Because, obviously and as a basis for all other rights and life itself, all people have a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations.
Please have a look at our initiative at www.RightToEnvironment.org and check our "NEWS" to learn more on this issue, be informed of most recent developments and find out what you can do.