Blog: CELA Supports the Global Pact for the Environment

In this blog, staff lawyer Richard Lindgren explains why CELA supports the Global Pact on the Environment.

Environmental justice is based on the fundamental principle that low-income persons and vulnerable, disadvantaged, racialized, and Indigenous communities:

  • should be meaningfully involved in governmental decision-making (and have full access to all relevant information) about environmentally significant projects that may affect their health, safety and other interests;
  • should not be disproportionately impacted by such projects if approved; and
  • should equitably share in the socio-economic benefits that flow from such projects if approved.

CELA has adopted environmental justice as a strategic priority to guide our casework (including test cases) in the courts and before tribunals. This priority also informs our law reform efforts aimed at eliminating systemic barriers that prevent our client communities from accessing environmental justice in a timely manner.

This is also why CELA firmly supports the “thinking globally, acting locally” approach to enhancing and entrenching the environmental rights of our client communities in Ontario. For example, CELA has recently joined an international coalition that is calling upon countries to endorse and ratify the proposed Global Pact on the Environment within the United Nations framework.

The Global Pact was initially drafted in 2017 by a worldwide team of legal experts and jurists, and was accompanied by a White Paper that explains the purpose, rationale and context of the proposal.

In essence, the Global Pact merges new environmental rights and mandatory governmental duties with key principles found in existing international treaties, conventions and agreements (e.g. 1972 Stockholm Declaration, 1992 Rio Declaration, 2015 Paris Agreement, etc.).

As noted by the coalition, the Global Pact has been under consideration at the United Nations since 2018, and it contains 20 concise articles that address various substantive and procedural matters:

Founded both on the right to live in a healthy environment and on the duty to take care of the environment, the Global Pact will give citizens the legal tools to become actors in the protection of the planet. It will recognize the fundamental principles of prevention and remediation of environmental damage and will establish the tools to implement them (right to information and to public participation, right to access to environmental justice) [original emphasis].

More specifically, the Global Pact includes provisions in relation to:

  • the public right to an ecologically sound environment;
  • the public and personal duty to take care of the environment;
  • the integration of environmental protection requirements (e.g. climate change considerations) into governmental planning and implementation activities;
  • the principles of intergenerational equity, harm prevention, precaution, polluter-pays approach, and non-regression of environmental laws;
  • the need to ensure meaningful public participation in environmental decision-making;
  • the public right to effective and affordable access to justice in administrative and judicial processes; and
  • the need for measures that maintain and restore the diversity and capacity of ecosystems and human communities to withstand environmental disruptions and degradation and to recover and adapt.

While some of these matters are mentioned in domestic environmental laws enacted by Ontario or the Government of Canada, many have not been implemented adequately or at all.

For example, Article 1 of the Global Pact stipulates that “Every person has the right to live in an ecologically sound environment adequate for their health, well-being, dignity, culture and fulfilment.”

However, this important substantive right is conspicuously absent from Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. This significant omission will be examined by the Law Commission of Ontario in its forthcoming project on enhancing environmental accountability in the province.

Similarly, a clear, stand-alone right to a clean and healthy environment is not presently contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor is it set out in the federal government’s proposed amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). As noted by CELA in a recent blog, the government’s suggested CEPA reforms fall considerably short of entrenching an enforceable public right to environmental quality across Canada.

Accordingly, the Global Pact serves multiple public interest purposes because it:

  • provides much-needed direction to national and sub-national governments in implementing overdue environmental action and pursuing appropriate law reform;
  • codifies commonly shared environmental principles and establishes legal accountability mechanisms;
  • facilitates the growing trend toward entrenching environmental rights in national constitutions; and
  • serves as an invaluable benchmark for assessing the adequacy of new or amended environmental legislation in Ontario and other jurisdictions.

The international coalition advocating the Global Pact now invites civil society to “come together and demand that States recognize our right to live in a healthy environment.” Additional information about this important initiative is available on the coalition’s website.