Call for environmental rights to be recognised in Constitution

Date should be set before summer recess for citizens’ assembly, argues group

The campaign group Climate Case Ireland (CCI) has called on the Government to amend the Constitution to recognise the right to a healthy environment. Similar steps have been taken in a number of other countries.

In a letter delivered on Thursday to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, CCI requested that the parties deliver on a promise to convene a citizens' assembly on the biodiversity crisis, and include on its agenda "the possible Constitutional recognition of a right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, and the principles of a just transition" as Ireland seeks to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

More than two years ago the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and called for the citizens' assembly to examine how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss, said CCI spokeswoman Clodagh Daly.

In the programme for government, the parties committed to “progress the establishment of a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity, but so far no visible progress has been made”, she added.


Given its support for dialogue at international level on the issue, for consistency the Government should support such dialogue at national level, and use the citizens’ assembly to provide an opportune occasion for this to happen, Ms Daly said.

In March, Ireland - with 68 other countries - submitted a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in which it contended that "a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights. Therefore the possible recognition of the right at a global level would have numerous important implications on what we leave to our future generations.

Open, transparent and inclusive dialogue

“We are committed to engaging in an open, transparent and inclusive dialogue with all States and interested stakeholders on a possible international recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment,” it added.

In July 2020, the Supreme Court - in CCI's successful challenge to Ireland's 2017 climate mitigation plan - rejected implied judicial recognition of a right to a healthy environment, stating the "advantage of express incorporation is that the precise type of constitutional right to the environment which is to be recognised can be the subject of debate and democratic approval".

This would require going down the referendum route, Ms Daly confirmed.

In its letter, CCI calls on the parties to “treat this like a real emergency and announce the date for the assembly before July 16th” - the beginning of the Dáil’s summer recess.

The Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on human rights and the environment in 2011.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David R Boyd, the number of states recognising the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment in various forms has grown over the past few years with more than 155 countries recognising this right, or elements of this right, in their national legal systems.

Despite its various formulations, the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is becoming universally recognised, he confirmed.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times