The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Jordi Jaria i Manzano, Nathalie Chalifour and Louis J. Kotzé
Chapter 4: Human rights versus human needs: debating the language for universal access to modern energy services
The debate between human rights and human needs offers interesting perspectives on the proposition to couch universal access to modern energy services in the language of rights. Essentially, this finds justification in the extensive intellectual breadth and moral structure of the theory of rights developed over the centuries. However, the language of needs provides a counterpart theory that asserts the centrality of basic human needs in establishing human rights. It also advances the view that satisfaction of human needs is a prerequisite to being human, and thus, arguably serves as the reason for being of governments. Along this line, it is suggested that the language of rights be abandoned in favour of the language of needs due to the instability, indeterminacy, reification and pragmatic disutility of rights. Accordingly, this chapter examines the merits and limits of the language of needs compared to the language of rights. It also investigates the feasibility of integrating needs-talk into rights-talk in the context of the challenge to achieving universal access to modern energy services. In the process, the implications of couching universal access to modern energy services in the language of rights are identified, including its potential to accommodate and articulate the significance of universal access to modern energy services within its moral and systematic fabric.
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