The damaging effects of air pollution on human health and well-being are unquestionable. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled many times on cases of environmental pollution. In this article, we analyse this extensive case law and argue that to some extent the Court has already de facto recognized a human right to a healthy environment and, within it, the right to clean and healthy air. Consequently, this right is protected as a fundamental right within the current European human rights legal framework. States have an obligation to secure this right and, if they fail do to so, an effective remedy should exist at national level to vindicate it. We analyse various domestic remedies available at national level to answer the question of what amounts to an effective remedy in the context of air pollution and broader environmental pollution, and we examine what is – or should be – the role of NGOs in using those remedies. Finally, we offer some comments on the interpretation of victim status in the context of environmental human rights litigation under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the JHRE editorial team for their valuable comments and suggestions; Vesselina Newman for her contribution; and all of our colleagues at ClientEarth, external partners and funders who directly and indirectly make our clean air litigation possible.
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