Challenges in practice

This section will address specific challenges at the intersection of human rights and environmental protection. These include topics attracting increasing attention, such as environmental refugees and environmental rights defenders, as well as cases of potential implementation of human rights approaches to local development decisions.

Environmental refugees, a term used to describe “people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardizes their existence and/or seriously effects the quality of their life,” has attracted attention for at least two decades. Despite the ongoing discussion on typologies and difficulties around asserting a sole cause in a given case of migration, it is undeniable that increasing pressure posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and spread of desertification, call for further efforts and additional analytic work to inform future decision making. Recently, the Nansen Initiative, a consultative process aims at developing a protection agenda for displaced people impacted by environmental disasters of climate change. The EU is directly involved in the Nansen Initiative and has also channeled research efforts in providing additional clarity on the topic of environmental refugees.

A “human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. An “environmental rights defender” or “environmental defender” is a person who is defending environmental rights, when the exercise of those rights is being threatened. A growing body of literature indicates that violations of environmental rights, although significantly differing by region, have been increasing worldwide due to greater competition for given natural resources, inadequacy or limited implementation of environmental laws, and corruption. Recent work examines, among others, challenges faced by environmental defenders, especially women, violations by non-state actors, and the impact of relevant legislation. A report from 2016 on global killings of land and environmental defenders estimates that “nearly four people are murdered every week protecting their land and the natural world from industries like mining, logging and agribusiness”.

Case studies that attract national interest will also be included in the study. Implementation of human rights approaches to a healthy environment will be analyzed vis-à-vis the management decisions associated with the case of mining activities in Skouries, Halkidiki, wind turbins in Agrafa, central Greece, burning trash in Volos, Thessaly and water privatization in Stagiates, Pelion. Following years of tension, including judicial persecutions and police violence the proposal’s ambition is to frame the ongoing discussion on a human rights framework, informing future relevant decision making.