Today, Friday 28th July, marks the first anniversary of the historic UN declaration of a universal right to a healthy environment. It calls on member states to ensure people have access to a ‘clean, healthy and sustainable environment’. While it is not a legally binding resolution, the hope was that it would encourage countries to enshrine a right to a healthy environment in their national legislation.
Investing in nature and green spaces has huge potential to improve physical and mental health. Access to green space, however, is extremely unequally distributed in the UK and is strongly linked to income levels. The situation is exacerbated in England where only an estimated 8% of land is accessible to the public (very different from Scotland, for example, with much more permissive public access laws). If more people are to have access to nature for their health and wellbeing, some rules that govern public access to land may need to change. Enshrining a right to green space would provide a legal basis to start to tackle this problem and contribute to addressing deepening health inequalities. It would also empower communities and individuals to hold public bodies to account for how they are tackling pollution, climate change and the biodiversity crisis. For example, it could empower the community groups defending their local rivers from sewage pollution, such as the charge led by Feargal Sharkey to hold the Environmental Agency to account in its obligation to protect the water quality in his local fly fishing spot at the River Lea, London.
Improving public access to nature is an idea that we’ve long championed at A Rocha UK because we recognise the benefits of nature to help people to thrive, but we also know that people who regularly experience and enjoy nature are more likely to value it and therefore act to protect it, which is critical to us as a conservation charity. Not only do both of Rocha UK’s two nature reserves serve the local human community as well as nature, but all members of our growing Partner in Action network (now 44 strong with more than 4,000 acres of land between us) commit in the charter they sign, to enable wider public benefit from their land.
As the UK political parties prepare to set out their manifestos for the next General Election a coalition of over 80 nature charities and leaders have launched a campaign to get the UK on track to meet its international obligations at home. It’s called the Nature 2030 campaign, and a key element is the call for an Environmental Rights Bill to create a human right to a clean and healthy environment for everyone in the UK.
The Environmental Rights Bill is just one of five key policy proposals in the Nature 2030 campaign. Taken together they are a call for UK’s political parties to put nature at the heart of their manifestos, and to close the yawning gap between our international commitments and action at home. Last year, the UK signed an international deal under the Global Biodiversity Framework to restore 30% of land and marine ecosystems by 2030. But with one in seven native species facing extinction in the UK, and declines in more than 40% of species in the last 50 years, the next government, whatever its hue, will have to be dramatically more ambitious and effective to turn this around.
Nature 2030 is calling on the Westminster Government in England and the devolved governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to get the UK on track to meet its international obligations at home.
Support the Nature 2030 campaign here.