Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 31: Environmental Human Rights: Greening “the Dignity and Worth of the Human Person”
Ken Conca This chapter examines the powerful yet controversial idea that environmental quality is a human right. The chapter pays particular attention to the trajectory of this idea within the United Nations, for two reasons. First, the UN has for several decades been the most important forum for the articulation, codification, and institutionalization of human rights. The family of human rights treaties nurtured by the UN have not only given structure to how the UN has approached human rights issues, but also have served as the central reference points for legal and political debates on human rights across the international system. Second, over the past few decades the UN human rights apparatus has broadened and changed considerably, moving from a legalistic foundation of state-based accords to a more active and institutionalized system of practice. This shift provides the most important opportunity for progress in realizing environmental human rights, today and for the foreseeable future. Given the tight coupling between environmental quality and human well-being, it may seem self-evident that environmental protection should be understood as a human right. Taking stock of the UN record on human rights and the environment, however, we encounter a paradox. Both environmental protection and human rights are widely recognized as pillars of human development, and the UN has moved increasingly toward both rights-based and sustainabilityoriented approaches to development. Yet little has been done to merge these two foundations by giving environmental human rights specific meaning or recognition. Indeed, the failure of the concept to flourish...
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