Research Handbooks in Human Rights series
Edited by Anna Grear and Louis J. Kotzé
Chapter 11: Sustainability, environmental citizenship rights and the ongoing challenges of reshaping supranational environmental governance
This Chapter traces the emergence and development of formal civil society/major group participation in environmental law and policy making processes from its rather weak conceptual origins in the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. It outlines the emergence into the mainstream of the drive to incorporate ‘bottom-up’ participation in environmental law and policy making, supplementing the traditional ‘top-down’ model of the established international regime in this sphere. This development rode on the coat tails of sustainable development through both the methodology and the inherent content of sustainable development identified in the outcome report Our Common Future of the World Commission on Environment and Development as partially embraced by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 1992 and in the Rio Declaration (specifically Article 10), as well as the ‘blueprint’ for sustainable development of Agenda 21. At the same time the drive to promote bottom-up participation in the emerging field of sustainable development was also provided by vigorous civil society activism and engagement with the UNCED process, as exhibited in the influence of the Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet in rendering the originally gender blind draft of Agenda 21 gender literate. The initial slow embrace of broader approaches to participation in the limited sphere of influence of the now defunct Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) and its later General Assembly-prompted development of good practice in this regard, are considered. The Chapter observes that the virtual ‘ghettoization’ of the participation agenda in the restricted institutional context offered by the CSD initially restricted its impact but that its gradual development of a sound body of expertise in this regard sowed the seeds for a wider culture change in this regard in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Chapter observes that the still-evolving expansive shift in the composition of the international polis in the sphere of sustainable development and environmental law to embrace major groups and other stakeholders that was set in motion by the events referred to above is one hallmark of the shift from government to governance in this area of transnational global endeavour. In considering the development of participation rights, the Chapter considers the role played by the theoretical construction of environmental citizenship and uses Bell’s neo-Rawlsian analysis of this area to frame discussion of the respective merits and limitations of procedural environmental rights and a substantive environmental right in progressing praxis in this field. The Chapter concludes by looking at more recent developments in the participation Agenda as made evident in outcomes of the United Nation as Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in 2012. The argument is made that, while the UNCSD proved disappointing in many ways, there is room for qualified optimism in its relatively enthusiastic reiteration and apparent augmentation of the participation agenda; also arguably evident in the subsequent early work of the new High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – showing that participation remains very much a live issue.
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