Environmental Rights are Human Rights

14 Dec 2018

Scottish Environmental Charities Launch Urgent Bid for an Environment Act for Scotland
Scottish Environment LINK members call for an urgent Environment Act for Scotland at The Scottish Parliament today.
Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of Scotland’s leading environmental charities will today launch an urgent campaign, “Fight for Scotland’s Nature” at the Scottish Parliament. Together they will call for Scotland to have its own environment act.
Fears sparked by Brexit as well as mounting evidence of the global ecological crisis also heavily impacting Scotland has prompted the charities to join forces and urge the Scottish Government to commit to a dedicated Environment Act for Scotland that protects and enhances Scotland’s nature, now and in the future.
80% of all Scotland’s environmental laws come from the EU. The combination of strong legislation and support for effective implementation has made these laws among the most effective on Earth. Further, Scotland’s nature has been a net beneficiary of the EU’s LIFE Nature fund which alone has supported conservation projects worth well over 25 million Euros to date.
If and when Brexit happens, Scotland (along with the rest of the UK) will lose the unrivalled support and enforcement roles of the European Commission, European Court of Justice and other EU bodies. Alarmingly, with only a few months to go, there is uncertainty about what will replace this.
This is why Scottish Environment LINK is pushing the Scottish Government to fight for Scotland’s nature and commit to a world class environment act before it’s too late. Ahead of global 2020 targets on halting biodiversity loss, it is important that Scotland sends a clear message to the world that our environmental protections are not up for grab.
Joined up legislation in the form of a Scottish Environment Act, that is fit for purpose and caters to Scotland’s unique environmental needs is required for this to be meaningful.
Scotland may be small but its natural environment is of world importance. It has 60% of the UK’s seas and 10% of Europe’s coastline. It is home to a staggering one third of all of Europe’s breeding seabirds and 29% of Europe’s seals. Its coral reefs, thought to be around 4,000 years old, support an incredible array of life, including fish, sharks and invertebrates. As for peatlands, Scotland has 5% of the world’s share, which stores 25 times more carbon than all the vegetation of the UK.
Charles Dundas Chair of Scottish Environment LINK said: “Our environment is important not just in terms of its natural and cultural wealth. It is our life support system and we rely on it for food, clean water and air and jobs – 14% of which exist as a result of our nature.
“But this is all under threat. Every day brings new evidence of the global ecological crisis that is underway. Even here in Scotland, with 1 in 11 species currently at risk of extinction, the effects of climate change and ecosystem collapse are apparent. The legal framework of protections and associated funding that we currently receive from the EU have been pivotal in holding back the tide of further biodiversity declines.”
Scottish Environment LINK is stressing the importance of Scotland continuing to develop protections in line with internationally recognised EU environmental principles that have been crucial in safeguarding Scotland’s nature and enabling it to thrive. It also warns of the dangers of inadequate support and funding to effectively implement laws. Further, it is pushing for clear environmental targets supported by long-term actions and funding to mitigate climate change, create robust ecosystems and ensure sustainable use of our natural resources that is good for us and our land and seas.
Joyce McMillan, President of Scottish Environment LINK said: “As guardians of our amazing environment, we have a duty to ensure future environmental legislation is not tokenistic. It must be upheld through an independent and well-resourced watchdog.
“Now more than ever, we need a Scottish Environment Act that builds on existing Scottish Government commitments to retain EU protections. This would send a clear message to UK and EU partners as well as the rest of the world that we are serious about protecting and enhancing our natural environment. We live in a time of increasing environmental crisis and degradation, and it is vital that Scotland remains a dynamic part of the movement towards a more sustainable future, both for our own sake, and as a reflection of our commitment to wider international efforts to protect and cherish the natural world on which we all depend.”
For media enquiries and interview requests please contact: Azra Wyart at: mediaandeventsscotland@gmail.com or call: 07788437819.
Notes to Editors (s)
(1) Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 35 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.
LINK is a Scottish Charity (SC000296) and a Scottish Company Limited by guarantee (SC250899). LINK is core funded by Membership Subscriptions and by grants from Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Government and Charitable Trusts.
2) ‘For more information about Scottish Environment LINK’s, Fight for Scotland’s Nature Campaign visit www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot
(3) Scottish Environment LINK members wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham to ask her to support a Scottish Environment Act. The letter is available here: www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot.
Photograph by Martin Shields
Tel 07572 457000
© Martin Shields

On Monday 10 December, celebrated across the globe as the International Human Rights Day, the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership published its recommendations on “how Scotland can continue to lead by example in the field of human rights”.  Entitled “Recommendations for a new human rights framework to improve people’s lives”, the report recommends that an Act of the Scottish parliament is passed to embed economic, social, cultural and environmental rights into Scots law. The First Minister has welcomed the recommendations, and as a first step has announced a taskforce will be established in the new year to progress the plans.

Scottish Environment LINK’s members and Fellows have, during 2018, been pleased to attend meetings of the Advisory Group’s reference group as well as a specific Round Table meeting on the environment.  LINK was, therefore, delighted to welcome the report’s recommendation in relation to environmental rights.

The Group have recommended that the new Scottish legislation should include, alongside economic, social and cultural rights a specific right to a healthy environment.  It says:

“This overall right will include the right of everyone to benefit from healthy ecosystems which sustain human well-being as well the rights of access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice. The content of this right will be outlined within a schedule in the Act with reference to international standards, such as the Framework Principles on Human Rights and Environment developed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and the Aarhus Convention.”

Scottish Environmental LINK’s Chair, Charles Dundas, responded that:

This is a hugely important recommendation which recognises the fundamental significance of the environment to our health and wellbeing.  We cannot get to a fairer Scotland without a healthy environment.

LINK’s members therefore welcome this recommendation and look forward to working with the new taskforce and subsequently the Scottish Parliament to implement this proposal.  In addition to the general importance of this proposal, it is also important to note that the Advisory group was set up in the context of ‘Brexit’ with the First Minister commenting:

“I wanted to ensure Brexit does not harm human rights in Scotland and that we remain in step with future advances in EU human rights. I also asked for recommendations to ensure Scotland is an international leader in respecting and enhancing human rights”.

Intrinsically, the environment is an international and cross-border issue and 70-80% of our domestic laws relating to the environment originate in Europe.  Thus, there can be no doubt that, if or when Brexit happens, the environment – and the laws and policies to protect and enhance our environment – will be severely affected.  To meet the First Minister’s ambition of international leadership, therefore, this recommendation must be fully and honestly implemented in parallel with other actions made necessary by Brexit.

A key post-Brexit challenge for all the UK’s governments is the so-called “governance gap”.  At present, the various institutions of the EU (notably the European Environment Agency, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice) undertake a range of environmental policy functions.  In their absence, these functions will need to pass to existing or new bodies within Scotland and/or the UK.  The Scottish Government has recognised this challenge, and sought advice from a sub-group of its Round Table on Environment and Climate Change.  A consultation paper on possible ways forward is expected imminently.

These matters interrelate, however, as a key part of any right to a clean and healthy environment is the right for citizens, communities and NGOs to challenge decision-makers in relation to matters that may undermine the enjoyment of that right – or may be contrary to legislation that seeks to give it effect.

At present, the European Commission’s complaint procedure is one affordable and accessible mechanism by which citizens, communities and NGOs can raise concerns.  By contrast, domestic procedures such a Judicial Review are costly and usually cannot address the merits of the issue.  This underlines the importance of the Advisory Group’s recommendation that the implementation of the right must include access to justice – with reference to international standards such as the Aarhus Convention and the UN Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment.  Present arrangements have been shown to be contrary to the Aarhus Conventions requirements.

LINK members therefore see the forthcoming Scottish Government consultation on post-Brexit governance and the proposed new environmental right as intrinsically linked.  They both contribute to a better Scotland, where our environment is protected and enhanced, and is recognised as underpinning our own health and wellbeing.  It is essential also that the engagement, participation and rights of citizens, communities and NGOs in environmental matters is both recognised and enhanced.  Unless the latter is delivered, we cannot be the ‘international leaders’ that the First Minister aspires to be.

So, as we enter 2019 (and possibly the likely outcome of the Brexit debates become clearer), where now?

First, LINK members look forward to working with the First Minister’s new taskforce on human rights implementation.

Secondly, we also look forward to seeing and responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on (post-Brexit) EU environment principles and governance.

Thirdly, however, we must implement these measures with a clear vision of the importance of the environment, clear ambition for its protection and conservation and determination to deliver these outcomes.  This is why LINK has welcomed the Scottish Government’s development of a long-term strategy for the environment – and debates relating to post-2020 ambitions for climate change and biodiversity.

But, consultations, discussions and strategies are insufficient.  There is a clear need to underpin this all in a Scottish Environment Act – this is the key aim of the LINK members’ campaign to “Fight for Scotland’s Nature”.  Such an Act should set clear ambitions, require actions to deliver those ambitions, underpinned by the EU environmental principles and supported by new governance mechanisms – including the implementation of the new environmental rights.

By Lloyd Austin, Convener of LINK’s Governance Group

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