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.’
Notes to Editors
 The Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the Human Right to a Healthy Environment as part of the Human Rights (Scotland) Bill by May 2026. This follows recommendation 2 of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership Report: ‘to include the right to a healthy environment with substantive and procedural elements into the statutory framework.’ A public consultation on the Bill opened on 15 June 2023, with the right to a healthy environment addressed in Part 5. The consultation is available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/human-rights-bill-scotland-consultation/
 The Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) assist the public and civil society to understand and exercise their rights in environmental law and to protect the environment. We carry out advocacy in policy and law reform to improve environmental rights, and full compliance with the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice on environmental matters. www.ercs.scot
 Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 40 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society. We are a Scottish Charity (SC000296) and a Scottish Company Limited by guarantee (SC250899), core funded by Membership subscriptions and by grants from NatureScot, Scottish Government and Charitable Trusts. https://www.scotlink.org/
 The report addresses only the six standalone features of the substantive element of the right. The procedural element is covered under the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information, participation in environmental decision-making, and access to justice. The full report, ‘Substantive features of the right to a healthy environment: a review of definitions, standards, and enforcement mechanisms’, The report urges the Government to follow international best practice, following recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to a healthy environment, and standards set by International agencies such as the World Health Organisation and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. https://www.ercs.scot/wp/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/The-Substantive-Right-to-a-Healthy-Environment_June-23_online.pdf
 The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was recognised in resolution A/76/L.75 at UN General Assembly in July 2022. https://sdg.iisd.org/news/unga-recognizes-human-right-to-clean-healthy-and-sustainable-environment/#:~:text=The%20UN%20General%20Assembly%20(UNGA,and%20sustainable%20environment%20for%20all.