Ahead of the Scottish Parliament election on 6 May, here is what the political parties have said in their election manifestos about incorporating the human right to a healthy environment and establishing an environmental court.
- The Scottish Greens, Scottish Liberal Democrats, and Scottish Labour all pledge support for a human right to a healthy environment.
- The Greens and Liberal Democrats also pledge support for the establishment of an environmental court.
- The Scottish National Party and Scottish Conservatives have not mentioned either the human right to a healthy environment or the need for an environmental court.
Environmental rights: what Scotland needs
Scotland needs to introduce a human right to a healthy environment as part of a new Human Rights (Scotland) Act. We teamed up with Scottish Environment LINK to put this ask to manifesto writers earlier this year. This human right must:
- Recognise, for the first time, that every person in Scotland has the right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment.
- Ensure that everyone’s democratic rights in relation to the environment are fully guaranteed, including the right of every person to be able to challenge environmental decisions before a court of law. We are calling for a new environmental court to be set up to reduce the costs of going to court, which are currently prohibitively expensive in Scotland.
In March, the Scottish Government’s Human Rights Taskforce recommended a new Human Rights (Scotland) Act that should incorporate seven new categories of human rights into Scots law, including the human right to a healthy environment.
What the political parties have promised
Scottish National Party (SNP): no pledges on the human right to a healthy environment or an environmental court
The Scottish National Party commits to incorporating only four of the seven new categories of human rights that were recommended by its Human Rights Taskforce in March. The four they have chosen are protected by UN treaties (p 13). Whilst this is essential for advancing economic, social and cultural rights, women’s rights, rights for persons with disabilities, and rights to eliminate racial discrimination, there is no commitment to the human right to a healthy environment.
The SNP does commit to introducing a new right to food (p 43), which is welcome news, but needs to reaffirm its commitment to the human right to a healthy environment at the earliest opportunity.
Scottish Greens: pledges on both the human right to a healthy environment and an environmental court
The Scottish Greens pledge to:
‘introduce a Human Rights (Scotland) Act to enshrine fundamental rights, including the right to a healthy and safe environment’ (p 33)
‘take forward a review to strengthen Scotland’s environmental governance measures, including the establishment of an environmental court’ (p 33).
Scottish Conservatives: no commitments on human rights or an environmental court
The Scottish Conservatives have some environmental pledges (p 41 onwards), but no commitment to a human right to a healthy environment or an environmental court.
Scottish Liberal Democrats: pledges on both the human right to a healthy environment and an environmental court
The Scottish Liberal Democrats pledge to:
‘fully incorporate the Right to a Healthy and Safe Environment into Scots Law in line with the UN framework principles, and the Aarhus Convention’ (p 51)
‘consult on the establishment of a specialist Environmental Court, to provide a speedier, more accessible and cost effective environmental justice system’ (p 39).
Scottish Labour: commitment to a human right to a healthy environment but no mention of an environmental court
Scottish Labour’s manifesto states:
‘the Scottish Parliament agrees that now is the time to fully enshrine in law a human right to a healthy environment. Scottish Labour has a plan to deliver this’ (p77).
Next steps, and what you can do
We will wait for the result of the election and then aim to meet with ministers and MSPs to push for progress towards a new Human Rights (Scotland) Act before the summer recess. This needs to start with a pre-legislative consultation.
What you can do:
- Remember to vote on 6 May.
- Get in touch with your new MSPs soon after the election to raise the need for a human right to a healthy environment and an environmental court with them.
We need the human right to a healthy environment enshrined in Scots law if we are to meaningfully address the climate emergency and a post-Covid just and green recovery. Even if your MSPs represent a party that did not commit to this right in its manifesto, every conversation matters!
Advocacy Officer, ERCS