Human Rights and Environmental Sustainability

Human Rights and Environmental Sustainability

Kerri Woods

Human Rights and Environmental Sustainability challenges the assumed harmony between human rights norms and the demands of environmental sustainability, by addressing conceptual, normative, and political questions surrounding the interaction between the two.

Chapter 6: Rights or Sustainability; Rights and Sustainability?

Kerri Woods

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, law - academic, human rights, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, european politics and policy, human rights


A clean environment is a human right. (The Dalai Lama 2009) A healthy environment is a human right. (Amnesty International 2009) Persons have a human right not to suffer the disadvantages of climate change. (Caney 2005, p. 786) [T]he best contribution that can be made to preventing excessive environmental pollution happens to be an extension of respect for human rights. (Beckerman 2006, p. 66) 6.1 INTRODUCTION Some green theorists such as William Ophuls (1974) and Garrett Hardin (2005) have taken the view that individual rights are a potential threat to, or might have to be sacrificed for, environmental sustainability. On the other hand, Wilfred Beckerman (1999, 2000) has argued that protecting human rights should be prioritized over ensuring sustainability, on the basis that the most important and environmentally valuable asset that the present generation can bequeath to future generations is not a sustainable environment, but rather a fair society. In the first section of this chapter I argue that both of these positions, those proposing sustainability over rights, and those advocating rights over sustainability, are misguided. The position I defend is that, in view of the environmental impacts on human security attendant upon current patterns of economic globalization, a commitment to human rights is interdependent with a commitment to environmental sustainability. Following on from this insight, the second part of the chapter explores the plausibility of uniting environmental sustainability and human rights in the concept of environmental human rights. This is a proposal that has often been made almost...

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