An enforceable right to a healthy environment

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International

Amnesty International is a global movement standing up for human rights. It campaigns to protect people wherever justice, freedom and truth are denied. Naomi McAuliffe, Scotland Programme Director, Amnesty International said:

“With millions experiencing hunger and displacement due to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, it is clearer than ever that human life and dignity depend on a healthy environment.

“Amnesty International is working at the international as well as domestic level to have the right to a healthy environment recognised in law. Although the links between climate change and the violation of multiple human rights has been long-established, there is still widespread failure to act and too few accountability mechanisms.

“Scotland has the opportunity to be a world leader in enshrining the right to a healthy environment and could motivate others around the world.”

George Niblock, Aberdeenshire

“The law and court procedures in Scotland are complex and intimidating. The potential financial implications are without limit, as are the consequences for the individual applicant.”

“We felt the council’s claims for legal expenses was punitive and it led to the closure of our group.”

George Niblock is a public health and environmental professional with over 50 years’ experience advising government and statutory bodies. George used to be the Chair of the volunteer-led Aberdeenshire Environmental Forum in his spare time. For ten years the forum engaged with the Aberdeenshire Council to address address major street cleansing concerns, but with little success.

The impact of rubbish on the streets led the forum to use its statutory right to apply for a Litter Abatement Order. The process took several years and the total cost was estimated at £40,000. Fortunately the forum was able to get free legal help but lost its case. After settling out of court at £9,000, they had no funds left to appeal the decision and the forum was forced to close after operating for 30 years.

Ann Coleman, Central Belt

“We’ve been living with the largest capacity landfill site on our doorstep in Europe for decades, along with opencast coal mining. The environment was never considered as relevant to our health.”

“We have no voice. We have no rights. We cannot protect ourselves. it’s impossible to get justice.”

“Scotland needs an environmental court because it will give us the power to bring harmful developments to the attention of the government in a way that they will have to listen.”

Ann has been fighting environmental injustice for over twenty years. She lives in Greengairs, just a few hundred yards away from the Greengairs landfill site. It is the largest landfill in Scotland, and reportedly the largest in Europe. There were previously two opencast coal mines in the area. In 2009 planning permission was given to a waste incinerator near to the landfill.

Ann had good evidence to show that the polluting incinerator would further damage the environment and the health of the community. She engaged in the local planning process, and sought legal advice. The advice gave her confidence that she had a strong case but Ann and her community could not afford to go to court to challenge the incinerator development because it would have cost tens of thousands of pounds.