Ireland to be a key contributor to a fund protecting environmental defenders

Published by Kayle Crosson on

21 October 2021 

Ireland will be a key financial contributor in a fund to protect environmental defenders, the Minister for the Environment has announced. 

Over the next four years Ireland will provide half of the funding for a new Rapid Response mechanism under the Aarhus Convention to safeguard environmental defenders, which Minister Eamon Ryan called an “expression of solidarity with environmental defenders across Europe and neighbouring regions”. 

The mechanism is set to complement the existing compliance mechanism of the Aarhus Convention, which established rights for the public and obligations for States who ratified it to access to information, public participation, decision-making and access to justice on issues related to the environment. Ireland ratified the Convention in 2012 and made the commitment to co-fund the mechanism this week at the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention.

The development, the Minister hopes, “will shine a light of justice into dark corners.” 

“It will call upon the authorities of the party to uphold the rule of law. It will be a voice for the women and men who are often the last line of defence for our land, air, forests, waters and wetlands. These constitute our life-support system on Earth. 

We will be held accountable by our citizens. It will force us all to live up to commitments which we all made, when we signed the Convention,” he said. 

The mechanism, supported by Ireland and Austria, was welcomed by environmental groups as a “really important and positive decision.”

Environmental Law Officer of the Irish Environmental Network and Board Member and Vice President of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) Attracta Uí Bhroin said that the funding commitment sent “a really strong signal” and that she “wished to applaud Minister Ryan for his leadership in relation to Ireland’s role in this.”

“This commitment demonstrates a renewed commitment to the Convention as aw hole, and must create an associated new narrative to ensure people can exercise their rights under the Convention, and to do so without fear of harassment or persecution,” Ms Uí Bhroin added.

Getting the mechanism up and running is now a “matter of urgency”, according to Andriy Andrusevych who represented the European Eco Forum at this week’s meeting.

Mr. Andrusevych stressed that parties to the Convention must also “address complementary measures to effectively implement protection for environmental defenders and not to tolerate their harassment or persuection.”

According to Global Witness, 2020 was the deadliest year for environmental defenders on record with over 200 campaigners killed. 

Their report found that the violence is disproportionately impacting communities in the Global South, especially Indigenous peoples.

A third of those killed in 2020 were from Indigenous communities, while they make up just 5 per cent of the global population. 

The Aarhus Convention has influenced other environmental human rights agreements, such as the Escazú agreement for Latin America and the Carribean.

The establishment of this special mechanism under the Aarhus Convention to provide a rapid response for environmental defenders who are in need of it – may influence other similar moves, which would benefit environmental defenders the worldover.

The right to a healthy environment

The Government also announced this week that it will co-sponsor a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which recognises a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

The resolution was adopted earlier this year at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council. 

Community Law & Mediation said that the move was not a panacea, but noted that “the constitutional right to a healthy environment is key to addressing the environmental crisis and protecting human rights”. 

“Given the Government’s support for a right to a healthy environment at international level, it should also support such dialogue at a national level. 

Government should convene its promised Citizens Assembly on the biodiversity crisis and include in its agenda a right to a healthy environment,” they added. 

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