'Hugely historic': Healthy environment could become fundamental right

'Hugely historic': Healthy environment could become fundamental right
Credit: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

A series of far-reaching proposals that could result in a healthy environment being recognised as a fundamental human right will be debated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Wednesday.

During PACE's autumn plenary session, parliamentarians from across Europe will debate seven reports, mainly related to the need for more participatory democracy to tackle climate change, whilst a panel of experts and activists, including Belgium's Anuna De Wever, will be heard.

"Basically, these resolutions state that if people feel that their basic human rights are being violated due to the climate crisis and due to the fact that measures taken by politicians are not being implemented properly, they can go to court," De Wever told The Brussels Times.

"Which is hugely historic, and important for democracy, because it gives people actual power over what is happening and therefore also allows them to ensure that politicians take responsibility and that it is not just a matter of words, but that action needs to be taken," she added.

De Wever will be the only civil society activist on the panel, joining United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as Tim Eicke, the Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, among others.

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Following the day-long debate, the resolutions have to be passed by the Committee of Ministers, the Councils other statutory body, comprising of the foreign ministers of each member state. The proposals would then be implemented, creating a shift both in international and national law and government policies.

“A healthy environment is essential for all of us – but it must become a legally enforceable right if we are to make the huge changes our planet needs in the years ahead,” said PACE President Rik Daems, who made this issue the main priority of his Presidency.

Not some 'far-off problem'

De Wever stressed that the Committee of Ministers did not take action when a similar proposal was brought forward in 2009, which would have made the right legally enforceable in national courts across the continent and in the Strasbourg Court.

But, she also highlighted that a lot has changed since 2009, especially this summer, with extreme weather being reported across Europe, from heatwaves and wildfires in Spain and Greece to floods in Germany and Belgium.

"This showed people that it is no longer some far-off problem, but that it is happening now, and also in Belgium, where we often minimise the climate crisis. It was a reminder that we really need to take it seriously and also to politicians that we really need to take action," De Wever said.

She added that presenting these resolutions is only the beginning to the solution, and called on all members of the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers to "show courage and do the right thing by adopting these resolutions and implementing the Paris Agreement in EU policies."

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