According to established human rights law, the recognition of the enjoyment of a safe and healthy environment as a human right should no longer raise doubts. The effects of climate change impacting human rights can already be seen, especially in the most vulnerable societies. The young and future generations are the ones likely to be most affected unless extensive and rapid climate change mitigation actions are taken.
Since many international human rights treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), were drafted before full awareness of environmental issues was achieved, they do not directly recognize a right to a healthy environment. However, at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the connection between the right to a healthy environment and human rights has been made through its interpretation of the ECHR in cases relating to environmental risks.
Environmental rights are connected to human rights even though the Convention does not directly protect the right to a healthy environment.
The environment related interpretation of the ECHR has been established in Court cases such as Budayeva and others v. Russia, where the common factor has been the fact that the State had failed to fulfil its obligations to protect the right to a healthy environment and had therefore violated human rights such as the right to life. [Viljanen et al., 2016] According to the case-law, environmental rights are connected to human rights even though the Convention does not directly protect the right to a healthy environment. In the Court’s interpretation there are positive obligations on States, e.g. when the Court has considered that a State had or should have had the knowledge and reasonable means to be able to prevent a violation [Sormunen, 2020]. The ECtHR in a time of climate emergency is facing a new challenge when an application related to climate change is brought before it. Climate change has a significant impact on a wide range of human rights and States’ fulfillment of their human rights obligations is being demanded by the young generation. It will be interesting to see how the interpretation of human rights evolves in the era of climate emergency.
Climate change has a significant impact on a wide range of human rights and States’ fulfillment of their human rights obligations is being demanded by the young generation.
As a part of the Environmental Rights Revolution, the right to a safe environment has been recognized as a constitutional right in various States. Over a hundred States have constitutionally protected the right to a safe environment. [Viljanen et al., 2016] The content of the constitutional right to a healthy environment varies between States, but it has had a positive effect on national environmental legislation and jurisdictional interpretation. It provides a safety net to fill the gaps and strengthen the national set of norms to protect a wider range of rights. [Boyd, 2012]
Boyd, D. (2012). The environmental rights revolution: a global study of constitutions, human rights and the environment. UBC Press.
Sormunen, M. (24.1.2020). Positiiviset toimintavelvoitteet – valtion velvollisuus turvata perus- ja ihmisoikeuksien toteutuminen aktiivisin toimin. Perustuslakiblogi. Retrieved from: https://perustuslakiblogi.wordpress.com/2020/01/24/milka-sormunen-positiiviset-toimintavelvoitteet-valtion-velvollisuus-turvata-perus-ja-ihmisoikeuksien-toteutuminen-aktiivisin-toimin/.
Viljanen, J., Heiskanen, H., Raskulla, S. (2016). Ihmisoikeuksien yleiset opit ja suomalainen ympäristöoikeudellinen argumentaatio. Ympäristöjuridiikka 1/2016 p. 86–109.