When emphasising the importance of public participation in protecting environmental rights, it must also be recognised that all persons, both individually and in association with others, have a duty to protect and preserve the environment.
Empowering individual citizens to play an active role in environmental policy-making and awareness raising promotes responsible environmental citizenship. This enables all members of society to fulfil their duty, both individually and in association with others, to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.
By helping to empower individual citizens and environmental NGOs to play an active role in environmental policy-making and awareness raising, the Ã…rhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (1998) will promote responsible environmental citizenship and better enable all members of society to fulfil their duty to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.
The Sierra Club Legal Defence Fund launched an International Campaign for Environmental Rights.
Article 5(m) of the Draft Protocol on Water and Health (1999) to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992), states: As a counterpart to their rights and entitlements to water under private law and public law, natural and legal persons and institutions, whether in the public sector or the private sector, should contribute to the protection of the water environment and the conservation of water resources.
A key human right that is enshrined within the Bill of Rights of South Africa's Constitution is the so-called "environmental right". This newly developed right has important implications for the development of legislation to give effect to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It states: "Everyone has the right – (a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being; and (b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that (i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation; (ii) promote conservation; and (iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development."
Part (a) of this clause grants a substantive environmental right ensuring that legislation which is potentially harmful or which may have harmful environmental consequences can be repealed. This clearly has important implications with regard to conserving biodiversity, and minimising adverse environmental impacts.
Recognizing and supporting the crucial role played in society by environmental NGOs as an important channel for articulating the opinions of the environmentally concerned public is a significant step forward both for the environment and for democracy.