The Rights of Nature

Afri supports the call by the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss to insert the ‘Rights of Nature’ into the Constitution, which was recently discussed at a meeting of the |Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action.

The Assembly on Biodiversity Loss made wide-ranging, important recommendations. A strong cross-cutting message was the need for full and proper implementation and enforcement of existing environmental legislation and policy.

  1. The Assembly called for a referendum on inserting into the Constitution substantive human environmental rights (e.g., a right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment including a safe and stable climate for the benefit of current and future generations) and procedural human environmental rights (e.g., the Aarhus rights regarding access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and justice in environmental matters).
  2. There is an intuitive feeling that we should all have a legally guaranteed right to clean air, potable water, a safe and stable climate, and so on. A right to a healthy environment (appropriately elucidated) encompasses and supports these rights.
  3. Over 100 states have enshrined a right to a healthy environment or other constitutional protections for a healthy environment.[1]
  4. However, Bunreacht na hÉireann does not expressly guarantee substantive or procedural environmental rights and the Irish Supreme Court in Climate Case Ireland found that a right to a healthy environment could not be read into (or ‘derived from’) the text of the Constitution.[2] They also signalled that a referendum would be a more appropriate avenue by which to enshrine environmental rights in the Constitution.

[1] UNEP, Environmental Rule of Law: First Global Report (2019) 156,over%20the%20last%20four%20decades accessed: 13 October 2023.

[2] Friends of the Irish Environment v Government of Ireland [2020] IESC 49.

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