The time is ripe for enshrining the right to a healthy environment as a constitutional right.
This will be a new right related to the realities of 21st-century living to combat the climate change crisis.
It is already a top priority within the EU and cuts across all the policies being pursued by the member states.
This constitutional safeguarding of the human right for a healthy environment will effectively classify the environment as a fundamental right.
Our obligation towards our children is to owe them a “Green United Cyprus”.
This new right can be secured through a constitutional change.
It is my conclusion based on what was discussed at the Legal conference for Human Rights Day on December 10, 2021.
The conference was co-organized by the House of Representatives, the Cyprus Bar Association and the Council of Europe.
During the first part of the conference, there was a presentation of the right to a healthy environment by two judges of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) and two academics.
A detailed discussion followed based on the presentations.
There is no specific environmental protection either in the Cyprus Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights.
Normally, such protection is indirectly safeguarded in the Convention.
Either through the Right to Life (Article 2), or the Right to a home and private life (Article 8) or even in the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions (Article 1 of the First Protocol).
From the speakers’ analysis, I have confirmed the clear intention of the ECtHR for environmental action.
A dynamic and creative interpretation is needed to achieve environmental protection through the Convention.
The circumstances, therefore, are ripe for the protection of the environment as a stand-alone right.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on September 29, 2021, passed a resolution for the amendment of the Convention and the addition of a new Protocol for the protection of the environment as a separate right ensuring access to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
A similar line has been adopted by the Human Rights Council of the UN in Geneva. On October 8, 2021, the Council recognized our debt to the young of the planet and accepted the need to safeguard the environment as a fundamental right.
In Cyprus, the constitutional change could be achieved either through a change to the Right to life (Article 7), or the right to a decent existence (Article 9), or the right to private life (Article 15).
There is a need for a further discussion on which of the abovementioned Articles is the most appropriate to afford protection.
In Greece, for example, Article 24 of the constitution safeguards the protection of the environment as an obligation of the State and consequently a right for the individual.
The Cyprus Greens – Citizens’ Cooperation at the said conference took a position on the substance of the issue, stressing they had presented a Bill for the protection of the environment through an amendment to the right to life under Article 7 of the Constitution.
This proposal is not confined to the environment but extends to biodiversity protection.
I believe this Bill requires urgent discussion before the House of Representatives so that we can proceed, as soon as possible, to the constitutional safeguarding of the environment.
This will force the State to show the necessary respect to the environment.
At the same time, it will make it possible for the individual citizen to demand and claim this right.
With the protection of the environment as a separate right, the Honest State will safeguard what citizens strive for and are entitled to.
By Achilleas Demetriades