Research Handbook on International Environmental Law
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Research Handbook on International Environmental Law

Edited by Malgosia Fitzmaurice, David M. Ong and Panos Merkouris

This wide-ranging and comprehensive Handbook examines recent developments in international environmental law (IEL) and the crossover effects of this expansion on other areas of international law, such as trade law and the law of the sea.
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Chapter 13: Human Rights and the Environment: Substantive Rights

Dinah Shelton


Dinah Shelton Introduction International attention to the links between human rights and environmental protection has expanded considerably in the past several decades. As early as the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, participating states recognized that environmental degradation hampers the enjoyment of internationally guaranteed human rights. In the Conference’s concluding declaration, the participating states referred to the fundamental rights of freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being. The three headings of freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life encompass recognized civil, political, economic and social rights. The UN General Assembly reaffirmed the linkage between human rights and environmental protection in resolution 45/94, stating that all individuals are entitled to live in an environment adequate for their health and well-being and calling for enhanced efforts to ensure a better and healthier environment. During the three decades since the Stockholm Conference, law-makers in many countries have drafted constitutional and legislative provisions to add environmental rights, including the right to an environment of a specified quality, such as ‘healthy’, ‘safe’, ‘secure’, ‘clean’ or ‘ecologically sound’. Two international treaties also directly guarantee a right to environmental quality (see infra). In addition to these direct substantive rights, environmental guarantees also emerge indirectly, because courts interpreting and enforcing other rights have recognized that violations of them may be the result of a degraded environment. International human rights tribunals, in particular, have come to view environmental protection as essential for the enjoyment...

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