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A ‘burning opportunity’ for human rights: using human rights as a catalyst for policies to mitigate the health risk of household air pollution

Benjamin Mason Meier, Ipsita Das and Pamela Jagger

Keywords: human rights; household air pollution; energy poverty; environmental health; sustainable development; public policy

With over 3 billion people dependent on traditional cooking and heating technologies, efforts to address the health burden of exposure to household air pollution (HAP), as well as other sociodemographic impacts associated with energy poverty, are central to sustainable development objectives. Yet despite overwhelming scientific consensus on the health burden of HAP exposure, particularly harms to impoverished women and children in developing countries, advocates currently lack a human rights framework to mitigate HAP exposure through improved access to cleaner household energy systems. This article examines the role of human rights in framing state obligations to mitigate HAP exposure, supporting environmental health for the most vulnerable through intersectional obligations across the human right to health, the collective right to development, and women's and children's rights. Drawing from human rights advocacy employed in confronting the public health harms of tobacco, we argue that rights-based civil society advocacy can structure the multi-sectoral policies necessary to address the impacts of HAP exposure and energy poverty, facilitating accountability for human rights implementation through international treaty bodies, national judicial challenges and local political advocacy. We conclude that there is a pressing need to build civil society capacity for a rights-based approach to cleaner household energy policy as a means to alleviate the environmental health effects of energy poverty.

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