The connection between a clean environment and human rights is not a recent linkage. Environmental rights are essentially associated with the rights of a human for legal protection and his/her right of life and development as confirmed by the international declaration for human rights in 1948. The first actual international treaty on environmental rights did not materialize until the year 2001, which was UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25th June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the ‘Environment for Europe’ process. However, the roots of the struggle for environmental rights clearly coincided with the legislations and mechanisms for the implementation of human rights around the world.
Nevertheless, the basic human rights, which are incorporated in civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights, are considered an indirect gateway to environmental rights. Therefore, there has always been a need to develop an international legal text that covers the environmental rights in a direct manner, and has the power of practical legislations. However, three elements can be considered as integral for any human-rights approach to environmental governance at the national level:
1- The right to a clean and safe environment:
These are the basic environmental rights, but they are the most difficult to define. Talking about a clean environment requires determining this environment in figures and standards. This might be different from one geographical area to another and from one political – economic environment to another, but the most important criteria is to have clean water. In Jordan there are a plethora of environmental regulations, specifications and standards for environmental quality but there is no comprehensive system of monitoring and public access to results that can determine the actual quality of the environment. Monitoring for water and air quality is conducted by various public and research institutions but rarely connected to decision making processes.
2- The right of working to protect the environment
This is a general right found in the universal declaration for human rights and reflects the right of individuals and groups to organize themselves and take action to protect the environment. Such a right, is directly linked to political and civil rights, in addition to the right of assembly and public action through popular organizations. This is naturally one of the rights that are threatened in many countries of the world. In Jordan the legal and institutional conditions are suitable for environmental activism as many civil society organizations emerge to protect the environment and many independent research and community organizations are also joining forces. During the past two years the environmental community in Jordan was successfully mobilized to protest controversial projects including the building of a tourism resort and an military academy in natural forests areas that constitute only 1% of Jordan’s area. The focus of environmental advocacy now is on the social and environmental campaign against the Jordanian nuclear energy programme that is drawing a lot of criticism.
3- The right of access to information and participation in decision making
This right is linked directly to democracy and transparency, where the citizen is allowed to play an effective role in protecting the surrounding environment and participate in making crucial decisions that affect them. This right in particular is the essence of the European Aarhus treaty, which includes clear text regarding environmental rights, the most important of which “Every person has the right to live in an environment that is appropriate for his health and welfare”. The treaty goes on to assert the right of people to obtain the important information regarding the pressures that have an impact on the “clean environment” in order to help them take the appropriate decisions regarding these pressures. In Jordan environmental information is usually protected by public organizations that produce the data and sometimes require financial input to release such data. Ironically, the best sources of environmental information about Jordan are from international and regional organizations working in Jordan.