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‘Brexit’ brings a risk to human rights protection against toxic pollution – UN expert

Toxic pollution in the UK

31 January 2017

LONDON (31 January 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, today called on the United Kingdom to ensure that its leaving the European Union does not lower the level of protection of human rights, including protection against the impacts of toxic pollution.

“EU regulations have required the UK to strengthen human rights protections from various sources of pollution and contamination,” Mr. Tuncak said at the end of his first official visit to the country to identify challenges to the safe management of hazardous substances and wastes, including threats related to dangerous levels of air pollution, fracking and other industrial activities.

“The forthcoming plan for ‘Brexit’ should ensure that it does not open a Pandora’s Box, freeing the way for deregulation and posing a threat of regression from existing standards of protection,” the human rights expert cautioned. 

Hazardous levels of air pollution are one key challenge facing the UK, causing an estimated 30-40,000 premature deaths per year, Mr. Tuncak said highlighting the threat of air pollution to the rights of children in the UK. “Children, women of reproductive age, the elderly and those of poor health are most at risk from air pollution, with double jeopardy for poorer communities more likely to be exposed to higher levels,” the expert said.

The expert noted that stronger EU standards for air quality have forced the UK to take action on a long-standing, invisible threat to the rights of children and the population at-large.

While welcoming some steps taken, he noted that the UK High Court in November 2016 ruled that the existing Plan was inadequate to meet EU standards, ordering the UK Government to draw up a new plan by 31 July 2017. The expert also regrets that the development of a Clean Air Plan had to be prompted by court judgments on the UK Government’s failure to comply with air quality standards required under EU law.

While noting the UK’s national action plan on business and human rights, the special Rapporteur also indicated that some significant cases of double-standards exist between practices by UK companies domestically versus abroad.

“The UK has a responsibility to set out a clear expectation that business operate with the same standards on human rights protection in the UK and abroad,” Mr. Tuncak said. “In manner that the country has championed efforts to combat modern slavery, it should also take action to protect against toxic impacts of UK businesses abroad.”

During his 15-day mission, the human rights expert met with representatives of the national Government, as well as civil society organizations and the business community in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2017.

Mr. Baskut Tuncak (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. As Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In the United Kingdom (during the visit): Frederike Jansonius (+41 79 752 0486 / [email protected])
In Geneva (before and after the visit): Alessandro Marra (+41 22 917 9882 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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