Adopt an effective compensation right for health and justice for EU citizens

ClientEarth, as a legal organisation, has issued an open letter, undersigned by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), and 20 other signatories, urging members of the EU Parliament to adopt an effective compensation right for the health and justice of EU citizens. By doing so, people’s most fundamental rights would be safeguarded while simultaneously creating the necessary incentives for the industry and public authorities to promptly adhere to environmental law. This compliance would enable the protection of both human and environmental health. 

The European Commission has now recognised that victims of environmental pollution currently do not have an effective way to obtain compensation for the harm caused by illegal industrial emissions under the Industrial Emissions Directive. Discussions are currently underway for the inclusion of a compensation right in three key EU environmental legal acts: the Industrial Emissions Directive, the Ambient Air Quality Directive, and the Urban Wastewater Directive. The Members of the European Parliament have been called upon to adopt a standardised and meaningful protection for victims of unlawful pollution. 

It is widely recognised that environmental pollution can have detrimental consequences on human health. Air pollution is the most significant environmental threat to health that Europeans suffer. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.2 million premature deaths are due to outdoor air pollution globally per year. Beyond mortality, air pollution is associated with numerous diseases and conditions such as cancers, ischaemic cardiac disease, stroke, asthma, infectious respiratory disease, worsened mental health, gestational diabetes, impaired cognitive development in children and decreased fertility. The damage to health of air pollution from industrial plants alone in the EU was estimated to have a cost between EUR 277 billion and EUR 433 billion in 2017. Yet, the current legal process for seeking damages due to illegal environmental pollution remains complex, costly, and hinders access to justice. This is particularly critical for vulnerable populations like the Roma communities, who bear a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution and socio-economic challenges. 

The human rights-based approach (HRBA), upholds the universality of human rights with the objective to empower rights-holders to claim and exercise these rights. The fundamental working principles of the HRBA includes transparency and access to information supported by disaggregated data. Despite the requirement for EU Member States to provide information about air quality, a majority (54%) of European citizens feel inadequately informed. The adoption of a robust compensation right would alleviate the need for establishing causality arguments, which can be nearly impossible with the current barriers to access viable evidence. 

The inclusion of this right in EU environmental legislation would mark a major milestone in terms of advancing access to environmental justice as well as human and environmental health, making it imperative to ensure it is straightforward and effective. 

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