As UK citizens we have the right to access to environmental information, to participate in environmental decisions that affect us, and to challenge certain environmental decisions. These rights come from international law, to which the UK is a signatory, namely the Aarhus Convention 1998 (the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters).
In addition to the ‘Aarhus rights’, there are certain human rights that intersect with environmental concerns including the right to health, the right to life, the right to food and water and the right to a livelihood. These are relevant because environmental degradation may threaten these rights. In October 2021, the UN Human Rights Council recognised the right to a healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right. Countries are implementing this in different ways, and it remains to be seen how this will develop in the UK.
In March 2022, UKELA’s Environmental Litigation Working Party responded to the UK Government’s consultation on reform of the Human Rights Act, and in particular advocated for the inclusion of the right to a healthy environment in any new UK Bill of Rights.
The right to protest and have your voice heard
You have the right to raise issues about breaches of environmental law or instances of environmental harm. You can do this in a number of different ways.
- Raise the issue with the relevant regulators across the 4 nations (see the links under tab ‘Regulators’ on any issue-specific page) and appeal to the environmental regulators such as the OEP, where the main regulator is in breach.
- Raise an issue with the Aarhus Compliance Committee which investigates breaches of the Aarhus rights’, where you have already tried challenging a decision in the UK system.
- The right to protest –you have the right to protest, for example where you think that the law needs changing, or that more focus should be given to a particular issue. However note that recent legislative changes have increased the risk of arrest from legitimate protest; see Liberty UK for further information, and seek legal advice where unsure.
If you need legal advice, please go to Further support
Right to access the countryside
We also have the right to access the countryside, in public parks and nature reserves, as well as common law access rights. The Ramblers Association has information on access rights for England and Wales and Scotland. The position in Northern Ireland can be checked on the NI Direct website.