A coalition of environmental groups are demanding that the right to a healthy and safe environment is enshrined in Scots law as a human right in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The Scottish Environment LINK (SEL) coalition of more than 30 leading charities remains concerned that not enough is being done to protect the nation’s natural environment, wildlife and air and water quality after the UK quit Europe at the end of the year.

They have now told Scottish ministers that the right to a healthy and safe environment should be written into a new Human Rights (Scotland) Bill.

The coalition said:"We all have basic needs which are fundamental to our humanity. Human rights law emerged to protect these needs as legal rights, at a time when civil and political rights and social, economic and cultural rights were in jeopardy. We are now at a tipping point when, again, our humanity is in jeopardy, this time because of environmental damage.

"Greta Thunberg’s famous warning that ‘our house is on fire’ was a sharp reminder that without a healthy environment, we cannot survive. The rule of law is the ultimate safeguard that protects citizens. It guarantees our fundamental rights against intrusions by government and polluters. Our need for a healthy environment must therefore now be protected in law as a human right.

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In December it emerged that Scotland had failed to meet international targets to prevent wildlife from becoming extinct by 2020 - despite ministers insisting in 2019 that they were on track.

An analysis by Scotland's countryside agency, NatureScot, revealed that efforts to protect endangered animals and plants were “insufficient” to meet 11 of 20 agreed United Nations (UN) targets by 2020.

Three years ago, the Scottish Government agency, then known as the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), admitted it was failing to meet 13 of the 20 targets.

It emerged that the country had failed to meet the targets in areas such as reducing habitat loss, preventing extinction, safeguarding ecosystems, increasing financial resources and increasing and improving protected areas.

Other areas there has been a failure in is in reducing pressures on vulnerable ecosystems, preventing and controlling invasive species and having sustainable marine management and eco-friendly agriculture, aquaculrure and forestry.

The coalition says that climate change is leading to increased coastal erosion and landslides, most recently seen in August with the fatal Stonehaven train derailment.

Biodiviersity is also under threat, it warns, with one in nine species at risk of extinction, "which is having impacts on our wellbeing".

They warn that air pollution in many parts of Scotland is at levels which are damaging to human health.


And they say that it is people living in areas of high deprivation, children, the elderly, and those suffering ill health that are more negatively affected by environmental health hazards, but are often least responsible for causing it.

It said that new laws were needed as there is currently not enough protection after exiting the EU.

Rights and responsibilities of citizens have been given legal form through the United Nation’s Aarhus Convention on the public's access to environmental justice which requires governments “to remove or reduce financial barriers to access to justice”.

In 2017 a report to the UN on access to environmental justice criticised he Scottish Government for breaching commitments to ensure that legal challenges to property, energy or other developers weren’t “prohibitively expensive” - in contravention of the convention.

"Most of Scotland’s environmental laws are derived from EU law. However, Scottish courts are currently limited in how they apply and uphold environmental law," SEL said.

"Judicial review is the main route in Scotland for environmental laws and decisions to be challenged by individuals.

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"The Scottish courts have repeatedly made it clear that they cannot review the substance of public authorities’ decisions.

"Therefore, environmental issues that have been raised in judicial reviews have often been deemed to be out of the courts’ scope.

"The inclusion of a human right to a healthy environment in Scots law offers a legislative steer to the courts to examine the substance and process of environmental cases with stronger scrutiny.

"Against the backdrop of a legacy of environmental injustices in Scotland; the need to ensure continued environmental protections following Brexit; the groundswell of demands to address environmental issues, together with the attention of COP26 hosted in Glasgow; and the momentum generated by the Scottish Government’s National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership’s recommendations, now is the time for Scotland to fully enshrine a human right to a healthy environment."

The COP26 event is a global united Nations summit about climate change and how countries are planning to tackle it.

It was due to take place in Glasgow last year with more than 200 world leaders due to attend, but when coronavirus arrived, that all changed and was moved to November 1 and 12 this year.

SEL warned three years ago that Scotland's rarest species face being obliterated in the fall-out from Brexit unless urgent new laws and funding are brought in to safeguard vital conservation work.

They said at-risk animal species such as the red squirrel, some birds of prey and sea mammals are in jeopardy because of lack of action in ensuring vital environmental protections are provide in Scotland after the UK finally cuts its ties with Europe at the end of 2020.

Their concerns were that there was no mechanism to replace the European Commission's LIFE-Nature Fund which has given £25 million over 25 years to Scotland to help with more than 25 vital conservation projects protecting the country's at-risk wildlife and landscape.

Receiving support was the restoration of the Flow Country peatlands in Caithness, one of the last great wildernesses in the UK and the preservation of primeval Celtic rainforest, the native Caledonian pinewoods and Scotland's coastal meadows, called machair.

They raised concerns that Scotland risks becoming the "dirty man of Europe" again with polluted air, sewage-filled beaches and flimsy conservation laws after Brexit, because 80% of Scottish protections stem from EU legislation.