Doc. 8892

20 November 2000

Future action to be taken by the Council of Europe in the field of environment protection

Recommendation 1431 (1999)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 729th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (15 November 2000)

The Committee of Ministers has carefully studied Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1431 (1999) on “Future action to be taken by the Council of Europe in the field of environment protection”.

The Committee of Ministers shares the Assembly's concern over the increasing threats to the global environment resulting from the continuing release of damaging substances into the environment and the degradation of nature in general.

The Committee of Ministers recalls the Council of Europe Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats (ratified by 43 states, comprising 37 Council of Europe member states, 5 non-member states and the European Community) and also the European Landscape Convention which was opened for signature in October 2000. It believes, like the Assembly, that the legal instruments drawn up within the Council of Europe form an important contribution to efforts to secure a healthy environment, in the context of sustainable development.

The Committee notes that, to date, the Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law (ETS No. 172) has been signed by 11 states and the Convention on Civil Liability for Damage Resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment (ETS No. 150) has been signed by 9 states. No state has so far ratified these Conventions. In both cases, the number of ratifications needed for these Conventions to enter into force is fixed at three.

The Committee of Ministers is convinced that the member states, which actively participated in drawing up these two Conventions, fully realise their importance and have not lost sight of the need for signing or ratifying them to ensure their entry into force. The Committee is also aware of the obligations imposed by these conventions on the Contracting Parties and the need for the states to take all the necessary steps, prior to ratification, to ensure that these instruments are fully complied with, which explains the slowness of the ratification process.

The Committee of Ministers is also aware of the proposal within the European Union to draw up a legal instrument similar to Convention ETS No. 172. The existence of this proposal also explains the hesitancy of the Council of Europe member states, especially of those which are also members of the European Union, where Convention ETS No. 172 is concerned. Any clarification of the situation could be but beneficial for the signature and ratification process for that Convention, which is slow-moving at present.

The Committee of Ministers shares the Assembly’s view that close co-operation between the Council of Europe, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the European Union is necessary. In this regard the Committee of Ministers recalls the role of the Council of Europe Development Bank.

The Committee of Ministers notes that the recognition of the individual and legally enforceable nature of the human right to a healthy and viable environment meets at present certain difficulties, legal and conceptual. Consequently, it believes that at present the conditions are not ripe to initiate a study geared to drawing up such a right for inclusion in an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Committee of Ministers agrees that the Århus Convention on access to information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice constitutes another important text which reflects the concerns of the Assembly. That convention has not yet entered into force either.

In these circumstances, the Committee of Ministers is not in favour of undertaking work to draw up new international legal instruments, such as a European Charter for the Environment.

The Committee of Ministers also wishes to draw the Assembly’s attention to the fact that the reduction of negative impacts on the environment appears among the ten principles of the sustainable development policy for Europe adopted by the 12th European Conference of Ministers responsible for Regional Planning (CEMAT - Hanover, 7-8 September 2000).

Finally, the Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that Recommendation 1431 (1999) has been forwarded to the governments of the member states.