Energy, Governance and Sustainability

Energy, Governance and Sustainability

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series

Edited by Jordi Jaria i Manzano, Nathalie Chalifour and Louis J. Kotzé

This book makes an in-depth and timely contribution to the debate about how to transform our energy governance systems into ones that support a fair, safe and sustainable society. It combines perspectives from leading scholars around the world to provide a global outlook on alternative approaches to energy governance and innovative experiences. Taken as a whole, it offers a unique snapshot of some of the innovative and novel ways in which law can support the shift to sustainable and equitable energy systems.

Chapter 4: Human rights versus human needs: debating the language for universal access to modern energy services

Manuel Peter Samonte Solis

Subjects: environment, environmental governance and regulation, environmental law, law - academic, energy law, environmental law, regulation and governance, politics and public policy, environmental governance and regulation


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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