Human right to access a healthy environment
By Jayne Manley, CEO Earth Trust
What would the UK be like if people had a legal right to clean water, unpolluted air and access to natural engaging green spaces?
Imagine if people had the right to know (access environmental information), the right to engage (participate in decision making) and the right to challenge including the ability to take legal action on environmental matters without personal cost.
Imagine the support for decisions taken and stimulation of progress towards the challenges we face of climate, biodiversity and mental health and physical wellbeing crises.
We don’t need to imagine, this could become real. This new Environmental Rights Bill was the subject of a launch at the House of Lords. Drafted by David Wolfe KC and Kate Cook of Matrix Chambers this Bill would establish human right to a healthy environment: a human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for everyone.
This Environmental Rights Bill and its core principles, give greater weight to environmental factors in decision making. It gives people stronger powers to challenge decisions which harm their environment and their health as well as supporting decisions that provide for improvement in our waterways, access to green spaces and the quality of the environment – water, air, green space where we live, work and play. In summary, this enables human environmental rights enabling nature recovery in our cities, towns and countryside and levels up access so removing inclusion and diversity barriers and therefore improving health and wellbeing outcomes for millions.
Fundamental is the ability to set standards. For green spaces, the recent launch of the new Green Infrastructure Framework (GIF) by Natural England and Defra could do this, enabling everyone to have accessible green space within 15minutes of their home. Natural England unveils new Green Infrastructure Framework – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Of course despite the hard work getting to the first draft, this is the start. But the coalition of Wildlife and Countryside Link (of which Earth Trust is a member), Client Earth, RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Matrix Chambers have made significant strides. Carol Day explained the importance of embedding this from the Aarhus Convention and translating this to UK law with UK relevance. Professor Maria Lee, eloquently spoke of the importance of listening to community consultation and engagement, the bedrock of inclusion, which would enable support, momentum and strengthen national and local government decision making. Next steps include further work, to be adopted in election manifestos and progressed in the next Parliament.