A new report backed by experts from across Scotland’s environmental sector has welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporating the substantive and procedural elements of the right to a healthy environment in its upcoming Human Rights Bill. The report suggests Scotland could become ‘a global leader’ in protecting environmental rights, but only if new rights ‘have teeth’ and are enforceable against public bodies and polluters.
The report, compiled by the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK, draws on guidance from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment and international best practice to identify the definitions, standards and enforcement mechanisms to uphold the six interdependent features of the substantive right to a healthy environment: – clean air, safe climate, healthy and sustainable food, safe water and adequate sanitation, non-toxic environments, and healthy, biodiverse ecosystems.
The procedural element of the right to a healthy environment is already enshrined in the Aarhus Convention, but Scotland is in breach of the Convention’s access to justice requirements and has until October 2024 to ensure that court proceedings for environmental cases are ‘fair, equitable, timely, and not prohibitively expensive’.
Shivali Fifield, Chief Officer at the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, said:
‘We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the substantive right to a healthy environment in a Scottish Human Rights Bill, and this should rightly be celebrated. However, the devil is in the detail. Our report provides a route map for the government to be bold in upholding the highest standards and effective enforcement mechanisms for clean air, safe climate, water, food, non-toxic environments and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems. Without this, the right has no teeth and will be meaningless. Equally, we need to see concrete reforms to legal expenses and a dedicated environment court to achieve full compliance with the Aarhus Convention and to make our procedural right to a healthy environment a reality.’
Juliet Caldwell, Advocacy Officer at Scottish Environment LINK, said:
‘Following the UN General Assembly declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right, the government must be bold in how it incorporates this right into Scots law. Scotland has the opportunity to become a global leader in protecting our environmental rights. However, the six features of the substantive right are interdependent and need standalone protection if we have any hope in tackling the climate and nature crisis.’