What are Environmental Rights?

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What are environmental rights, and why do we need them?

 

The right to a healthy environment is grounded in the underlying principle that all humans have basic, non-negotiable needs, including clean air, clean water, clean soil, and a liveable climate. It acknowledges that everyone should have equal access to these things, and that other human rights cannot be upheld if these needs are not met.

 

From this basic premise stems a range of powers based on important principles designed to support and protect the right to a healthy environment is upheld. This creates a helpful "toolkit" that can be used to address a diverse range of environmental challenges, from local air and water quality, to toxic substances, and even climate change. ​​​​​

Principle of Equity

Principle of Equity

Government is to provide all communities with equal protection from environmental hazards, and ensure that marginalized, vulnerable and/or racialized communities are not disproportionately harmed. Additionally, environmental rights protect the interests of future generations against the impacts of today’s environmental actions.

Equity - equity by Laura Amaya from the

Precautionary Principle 

Precautionary Principle

Governing bodies must consider potential adverse environmental impacts resulting from any project or plan. When there is uncertainty regarding the effects of a given action, government should err on the side of caution, abstain from that action, and institute safeguards against potential harms.

Precaution - Caution by arjuazka from th

Principle of Non-Regression

Principle of Non-Regression

Environmental laws and regulations should only be strengthened, and never weakened. This prevents the rollback of existing environmental protection as new governments come and go.

Non-regression - Agriculture by Adnen Ka

Polluter Pays Principle

Polluter Pays Principle

“Polluter pays” is an economic principle that maintains that those who are responsible for producing pollution should be responsible for cleaning it up, and be required to compensate those who are impacted. It helps avoid the creation of negative externalities (costs that are imposed on other people and the environment). 

Polluter Pays- Money Factory by Sergey D

Principles.

Participation - Vote by HeadsOfBirds fro

Empowers citizens to have a say in decisions that affect their environment, including proposed actions, laws, and permits that may have adverse environmental impacts. Citizens have the power to ask the government to review an existing law or permit or investigate actions that they believe are harming or are likely to harm the environment. The government must provide a timely, comprehensive response and demonstrate ways in which they considered public concerns.

Access to Participation

Access to Participation

Access to Courts

Access to Courts

Requires the government to grant individuals and communities access to a range of diverse, unbiased, timely and affordable legal proceedings, thus facilitating the ability to seek legal action on any violations or threatened breach of any acknowledged environmental right. This tool also protects environmental rights whistleblowers from legal penalties that they may face in the litigation process. 

Access courts - Scale by shuai tawf from

Watchdog

Environmental rights require the government to assign an independent body or institution to monitor all actions, laws, and permits under the jurisdiction of the government with environmental rights legislation. This independent watchdog agency will help ensure the implementation and adherence to environmental rights legislation, thus increasing government transparency and accountability to the public.

Watchdog - Dog Alert by Gregor Cresnar f

Watchdog

Access to Information

Access to Information

Grants people the right to open, free, and timely access to information on environmental matters including actions, laws, permits, and environmental disasters. Furthermore, governments are required to regularly publish peer-reviewed reports on the state of the environment.. Together, these measures enable people to take actions to prevent and/or mitigate harm, and help hold governments accountable.

Access Info - Search Document by Gregor

Powers.

What

are the benefits?

People have every right to be skeptical of whether achieving environmental rights will result in meaningful change. However, looking at the many other countries that have these rights, the benefits are clear. This includes stronger environmental laws and better implementation, healthier communities, and lighter ecological footprints. Check out this short video, “A Tale of Two Valleys,” (Ecojustice) for a compelling example. 

 

Canadians are tired of watching the environment being harmed due to the inadequacy of Canada’s laws. Tired of reacting to the “next bad thing” that threatens our clean air and water. Tired of fighting for years to strengthen environmental laws, only to watch them weakened with the stroke of a pen. Tired of witnessing less powerful communities receive a disproportionate share of pollution and impacts from development.

 

The right to a healthy environment offers a strategic way to make progress across the board, for everyone, and prevent backsliding. This right is now recognized constitutionally in more than 110 countries, and through legislation in more than 150, making it the fastest-growing body of human rights internationally. It’s time that we demand Canada do the same.