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Environmental rights in the Asia Pacific region: taking stock and assessing impacts

Joshua C Gellers and Chris Jeffords

Keywords: environmental law; rights; constitutions; Environmental Performance Index (EPI)

Since their emergence in the 1970s, human rights relating to environmental protection have spread all over the world and continue to find homes in an ever-growing list of national constitutions. These provisions mainly fall into one of three categories – substantive, procedural, or derivative environmental rights. Over the last two decades, the proliferation of these rights has caught the attention of legal scholars and social scientists, who have sought to catalogue their distribution and analyze the origins and impacts of this development. The literature in this area has provided anecdotal updates concerning environmental rights jurisprudence at the national and regional levels and global quantitative assessments regarding the effects that such rights have on humans and the environment. However, scant work offers regionally-focused empirical examinations of the variation of the presence and impacts of environmental rights. In an effort toward filling this gap, this article utilizes statistical techniques in order to determine what, if any, correlation exists between environmental rights and environmental performance in the Asia Pacific region. Preliminary results suggest that, over the past several years, countries with environmental rights have experienced strong improvements in ecosystem vitality but weak reductions in measures of environmental health. In addition, there is evidence of important intra-regional differences – South and South-West Asia lay claim to some of the world's most innovative environmental rights jurisprudence, while North and Central Asia possess the region's greatest concentration of constitutions featuring environmental rights. The article concludes with several recommendations for policy-makers in the region regarding the adoption and implementation of environmental rights.

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