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A healthy environment for future generations: rethinking human rights and the environment in Europe

08/10/2021 - 15:29
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On 5 October 2021, the EU Delegation in Strasbourg together with the European Parliamentary Association organised a conference-debate to discuss and reflect on the relationship between a healthy environment and human rights. This is a historic challenge which affects both the work of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

The environment has progressively climbed up the hard ladder of political agendas and is now a global priority, from the UN various initiatives (notably the 2016 Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) to the EU’s recent Green Deal.

Launched on Europe Day 2021, the Conference on the Future of Europe is seeking to promote dialogue between citizens, experts and the European institutions. It will offer citizens across Europe the opportunity to express their views on what they want from the European Union and to give their opinions on future developments.

Our event ‘A healthy environment for future generations: rethinking human rights and the environment in Europe’ took place in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe and invited citizens, most notably the youth, to have their say on how the continent should approach environmental protection. The event also proved to be timely as it occurred during the Climate Diplomacy Weeks, taking place from the 27 September to 17 October 2021.

Starting with a debate session taking the form of participatory workshops, participants were separated into three groups and given a relevant topic to discuss and debate. This exercise was undertaken in the view of formulating proposals and ideas to be put to guest speakers and to be later submitted on the platform of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Three students from Sciences Po. Strasbourg were tasked with streamlining ideas stemming from discussions in order to present them to the speakers and the audience during the second part of the event.

In the first workshop, participants were able to reflect on whether International/European law is sufficiently binding and effective.  Participants deemed necessary to harmonise environmental policies at European level and strengthen the monitoring of EU law implementation in Member States. They also called for more investment to be made in scientific research to find new sources of sustainable and environmentally friendly energies. Moreover, they thought of the environment beyond European boundaries which highlighted the universal nature of this topic and the need for greater collaboration at international level. They also reiterated the need for supporting Member States in their ecological transition and to raise awareness among European citizens to change collective behaviour towards more environmentally friendly lifestyles.

A second workshop entitled “Democratic issues at stake in the protection of the environment” saw a lively discussion on the efficiency of democratic systems on this matter. Participants suggested that paying greater importance to environmental education and broaden the scope of consultations at global level could provide concrete solutions to the crisis societies face. Moreover, participants also identified a need for a greater reliability on participatory democracy as a mean to complement the work of parliamentarians and representative democracy.

A third workshop debated the issue of climate inaction and human rights violations around the world. By identifying the problems linked to climate inaction, namely the dissonance between the show of intent and the lack of action as well as pollution and its ramifications on the right to a breathable air, participants proposed undertaking more local initiatives and further risk prevention by defining a responsibility to protect the environment.

The conference opened with Mr Simon MOUTQUIN who was asked about some of the stand out recommendations featured in a recent report he presented on “Anchoring the right to a healthy environment (link is external)”. The report – which was adopted unanimously by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – recommends the drafting of an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the Social Charter on the integration of a right to a healthy environment stand out. Furthermore, it the preparation of a feasibility study for a “5P” (preventing, prosecuting, protecting, policies, parliaments) convention on environmental threats.

MEP Ms Marie ARENA was able to delve further into the topic by underlining the universal and intergenerational dimension of environmental protection and its impact on human rights. She focused on corporate accountability and the process of due diligence in this regard, highlighting that the actions of individuals should not be held as the cause for the harm inflicted when certain multinationals are proving to be greater threats to the environment.

Ms Arena and Mr Moutquin reacted to comments made on the gap between the political class and citizens, underlining that the multiplication of consultative citizens’ assemblies could only be beneficial to society at large. Ms Arena suggested engaging in a more holistic approach to climate justice by also integrating justice for the populations most affected by this issue and not simply engage in an intra-European reasoning. This aspect comforted some of the main points of the conference which was the universal and intergenerational dimensions of the right to a healthy environment. It was reiterated that only through deeper cooperation and better coordination at all levels can this right be truly effective and implemented correctly.

Finally, Ambassador to the EU Delegation to the Council of Europe Ms Meglena KUNEVA concluded the event by highlighting the impactful contribution of citizens’ participation on such topics and the importance of cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe.  

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