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ClientEarth Communications

20th June 2023


Why we’re supporting a UK Environmental Rights Bill

Last year, the United Nations made a landmark decision to recognise a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. Decision-makers are increasingly acknowledging how air, water and the climate have a direct impact on our health and well-being, thanks to the work of campaigners and experts the world over. 

However, such a right does not currently exist in the UK – which is why we’re backing a new bill, proposed by Wildlife and Countryside Link and other environmental organisations, to put it into law. 

What is the bill and why does the UK need it?

The Environmental Rights Bill would create an irrefutable right to a healthy environment, which could then be used to  enforce poorly-complied-with environmental laws.  

The Bill would put a duty on public bodies to make sure our water, air and natural landscapes are in a healthy condition and would give people new legal tools to hold them to account if they fail to live up to these standards. It would also complement the landmark ‘Ella’s law’ campaign for a Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill. 

The Environmental Rights Bill would grant people in the UK: 

  • The right to relevant and promptly delivered information when it comes to environmental issues;
  • The right to have greater engagement with the UK’s planning system; and,
  • The right to challenge environmentally damaging decisions through the courts. 
What would change if it passed?

The Environmental Rights Bill would offer protections for the UK’s already depleted biodiversity and natural landscape and expand the legal definition of what makes up a healthy environment, in terms of air and water quality and access to nature. 

With this much wider scope, individuals and communities would have a new legal route to help address longstanding environmental injustices such as air pollution and raw sewage being dumped into local rivers. 

By allowing affected communities to be more involved in the planning process, the bill could also stop high-polluting projects in their tracks before they get off the ground. 

If the bill became law, it would also show that progress on human rights in the UK is possible following a decade where existing rights have been eroded by successive governments.