Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment
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Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment

  • Research Handbooks in Human Rights series

Edited by Anna Grear and Louis J. Kotzé

Bringing together leading international scholars in the field, this Research Handbook interrogates, from various angles and positions, the fractious relationship between human rights and the environment and between human rights and environmental law. The Handbook provides researchers and students with a fertile source of reflection and engagement with this most important of contemporary legal relationships. Law’s complex role in the mediation of the relationship between humanity and the living order is richly reflected in this timely and authoritative collection.
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Chapter 12: The United Nations, human rights and the environment

Lynda Collins

Abstract

In the past five years, the ‘environmental rights revolution’ reached an apex when two states in Latin America created constitutional rights for nature itself. This development represents the culmination or extension of a decades-long process of codification of environmental rights for humans in more than 90 national constitutions. Constitutional environmental rights have made real, measurable, and substantial impacts on domestic legislation, litigation and, most importantly, environmental performance. In the rise of environmental human rights, it would seem at first blush that individual nation-states have played a dominant role. Regional human rights institutions, influential scholarship and ambitious civil society activism have also made major contributions to the evolution of environmental human rights. The casual observer might reasonably believe that the important efforts of non-United Nations (UN) actors have eclipsed the role of the UN in this field. However, a close examination of the history and progression of environmental human rights throughout the world demonstrates that the UN has played a crucial role in both catalyzing and consolidating the recognition of human rights in the environment. This chapter will survey the UN’s involvement in the emergence of environmental human rights in the global legal order, and will make proposals for future UN action in this area. In particular, the author suggests that the UN should continue to emphasize the necessity of environmental protection in the stewardship of all human rights, while providing guidance on the existence and content of the free-standing right to a healthy environment. A General Assembly resolution clearly recognizing the right to environment would provide a solid foundation on which to begin the process of negotiating a specific binding multi-lateral treaty committing states to respect, protect and promote environmental human rights on all levels.

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