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Address by Lluís Maria de Puig, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on the occasion of the Nevsky International Ecological Congress (St Petersburg, Tavricheskiy Palace, 15 May 2009)

 

Provisional version

 

Chairman,

Excellencies,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Our joint conferences - between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the member states of the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS) – are already a longstanding tradition.

 

Our first joint conference, back in 2002, was dedicated to the fight against terrorism. Since then, we have covered many important subjects including intercultural and interreligious dialogue and more recently the subject of migration.

 

It is interesting to observe that our last year’s discussion on migration has also common ground with the discussion we shall have today. Across the world, many people – have to or will have to – flee their homes and move elsewhere as a result of environmental degradation or natural disasters. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we had a very important debate on this issue in January this year. It was particularly interesting from the legal point of view – as we are still struggling to define a legal status of environmental refugees. The debate was also interesting from the point of view of climate change, which increasingly causes many people to flee their homes.

 

As mentioned by the Co-Chairman Mr Mironov, this year the theme of our joint Conference will focus on “Energy and ecological security as part of the human environment in a global economic crisis”. It is an extremely timely political and economic issue worldwide. Environmental crisis, coupled by financial and economic crisis. It pauses both threats and opportunities.

 

The year 2009 will be a crucial year for all our countries in Europe, in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), in Asia (including China), in the United States and elsewhere in the world. We have to set political commitments in Copenhagen. We need to achieve a political consensus to revise the Kyoto Protocol and we have to commit to strict and more ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We owe it to the future generations.

 

Today, the effects of the climate change are no longer an exclusive interest for a narrow circle of scientists. The effects of climate change are strongly felt by many people across the world. It directly concerns :

- thousands of people who are victims of flooding, drought and hurricanes

- and many more thousands of people whose daily survival and income are directly affected by the loss of habitat, such as loss of forests, desertification, salinisation of soil, etc.

 

In my own country, Spain, every summer we experience rising temperatures, drought and lack of water. It affects most of our regions, it affects human health, it affects economic activity and it creates competition for resources.

 

You will therefore understand, that the issue of water – and particularly access to water and water management - are extremely important to me.

 

In March this year, my parliamentary colleagues Alan Meale and Bernard Marquet have attended the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul. As the representative of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Meale – Chairman of the Environment Committee - made the opening speech on behalf of Europe, and Mr Marquet – our rapporteur on water – chaired the closing session.

 

Many topics were discussed including global changes, transboundary waters, decentralisation, and the right to water and sanitation. The right to water and sanitation was a particularly controversial topic. The parliamentarians deeply regretted that this right was not included in the Ministerial declaration. In fact, the ministerial declaration mentions only a “need” for water, but not a “right” to water.

 

Our Parliamentary Assembly, and me personally, we wish to encourage progress in this area by including a right to a healthy environment in the European human rights protection system.

 

I am happy to announce that in September this year, we shall have a parliamentary debate on an Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights - establishing a right to a healthy and viable environment. We believe that living in a healthy environment is a fundamental human right.

 

Despite many political and legal initiatives, which are taken both nationally and internationally, this fundamental right is still not properly guaranteed.

 

Let me give you the example of our European Court of Human Rights. According to the current provisions of the Convention, the individual’s right to health and viable environment is only recognised a posteriori - if there has been proof of violation. Such as serious effects on human health, or on human environment. The Court is constrained to interpret the provisions of the Convention as it stands, and it can not alter its content.

 

It is our role of parliamentarians to push for the adoption of the Additional Protocol to the Convention which would be crucial if we want to enable every individual to benefit from the precautionary principle, and if we want to guarantee his or hers right to a healthy and viable environment.

 

The recognition of such right in the European Convention on Human Rights would play an important part in leading the member states of the Council of Europe to take greater account of environmental issues. 

 

We as parliamentarians, both in the Council of Europe and in the Commonwealth of Interdependent States (CIS), have a major role to play to advance those rights.

 

Finally, I believe there is an urgent need for consultation among governments across the globe, and adjustment of the economic system, in order to take better account of the need for sustainable development.

 

I believe that this conference will help us to make a step forward in these directions. I therefore wish you a fruitful debate and a successful conference.

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