Brits back call for new law that empowers them with a vital human right

Two people walking in Hampstead Heath Nature human right
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Many countries around the world recognise their citizens’ access to a healthy environment as a constitutional right. Moreover, both the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council declared such access a human right in 2022. The UK is, however, a laggard on this subject. It initially opposed the UN’s efforts to recognise a healthy environment as a right. But a new campaign by a coalition of nature-focused groups is putting the issue firmly on the UK agenda – with the backing of the public.

Nature 2030

The Wildlife and Countryside Link – known colloquially as Link – leads the coalition, which comprises of over 70 charities including the Wildlife Trusts, Wild Justice, and Born Free. The coalition is calling on all policymakers, no matter what side of the political aisle they sit on, to commit to a five-point plan to restore nature by 2030.

The necessary measures include doubling funding for wildlife-friendly farming, such as agroecology. They also include the large-scale creation of green jobs via a National Nature Service and rapid ramping up of the restoration and creation of nature sites by 2030. Moreover, the plan provides for making polluters pay for the environmental damage they cause. And it calls for a new law that protects people’s right to clean water, clean air, and access to nature.

Pointing to the next general election in the UK which is due by January 2025, Link CEO Richard Benwell said:

Next year, the environment will be a major election battleground. Like rivals in an Attenborough film, politicians will be vying to be seen to be greener. But vague promises to be nice to nature simply won’t suffice.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also commented:

Our natural world is in a state of emergency – with wildlife populations plummeting, polluted air threatening human health, and toxic sewage pumping into our waterways. Warm words alone won’t reverse nature’s rapid decline – it’s time for action.

Read on...

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The public agree it’s time for action

The coalition sought views from the public on its plan, in a poll carried out by YouGov. The research suggests overwhelming support for the proposed measures, with approval ranging between 68% and 83%.

Those surveyed were most strongly in favour of forcing polluters to pay for cleaning up the environmental mess they make. This measure received 83% support, which is unsurprising amid a national scandal over the widespread pollution of waterways by water companies. These firms have failed to properly invest in the services they’re tasked with providing, yet have paid out billions in dividends to shareholders.

The coalition’s call for a new law protecting the right to a healthy environment also received significant backing. 75% of people polled supported this measure. This points to a wide gap between the British public and policymakers.

Initially, the UK opposed the UN Human Rights Council’s efforts to secure recognition of a healthy environment as a right. But then it ultimately voted for a similar resolution at the body’s General Assembly. As the UN explained, however, the UK’s support was not without reservation, as its representative expressed that:

There is no international consensus on the legal basis for the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the United Kingdom does not consider it has yet emerged as a customary right.

The General Assembly resolution isn’t legally binding. Nonetheless, it can serve to encourage states to enshrine the right in national laws. This is exactly what the Link-led coalition is demanding. Doing so would empower people to hold the government to account over failures to provide a healthy environment, protecting both people and the rest of nature.

Nature in serious decline

As the coalition points out, time is of the absolute essence for wildlife in the UK. It is one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. Over one in seven of its wild native species face extinction, according to WWF. This includes a quarter of its non-human mammal species and half of its butterflies. Meanwhile, wild bird numbers have been in freefall for decades – and face newer dire threats like avian flu, which is decimating some populations.

Moreover, the coalition says that the government’s current targets for species abundance, namely its commitments regarding helping species to bounce back, are inadequate.

One of these targets is to improve biodiversity by 10% by 2042, from a 2030 baseline. Another aims to ensure that “the decline in the abundance of species has been halted” by 2030. The success of this target will be determined by assessing abundance in 2030 against the year earlier. In other words, although the legally-binding targets do aim for species abundance to be higher in 2042 than it is now, the targets appear to leave lots of room for further declines of wildlife in the coming years.

In its Nature 2030 campaign and five-point restoration plan, the coalition is calling on politicians from all parties to go much further – and it appears that the public wholeheartedly agree that they should.

Featured image via Stephen McKay / geograph, cropped to 1910×1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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