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

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 16: Aligning international environmental governance with the ‘Aarhus principles’ and participatory human rights

Ulrich Beyerlin


The decision-making processes running in the framework of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) (by now replaced by the High-Level Political Forum [HLPF]), and the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the variety of multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Climate Change Convention and the Biodiversity Convention, make up what international environmental governance (IEG) typically is about at present. All these bodies show in their institutional set-up and work meaningful imprints of participation of ‘the public’ or ‘the public concerned’ as embodied by a variety of non-state actors, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This Chapter assesses what the UNECE Aarhus Convention of 1998 and the current universal and regional systems of environmental human rights protection might contribute to ensuring public participation in international environmental decision-making. While the Aarhus standards are first and foremost designed to regulate the relationship between government and the public in the state’s domestic sphere, Article 3(7) of the Aarhus Convention opens up the opportunity to transpose the ‘Aarhus principles of public participation’ to the sphere of IEG. Like the Aarhus standards, participatory human rights become primarily operative in the domestic sphere of each state. However, in cases where neighbouring states have agreed upon establishing a joint body to provide for conservation and sustainable management of transboundary water resources, affected or likely affected individuals, groups of individuals, as well as local and indigenous communities depend on being able to invoke their participatory human rights in relevant transboundary decision-making processes. The same holds true for inter-state agreements on transboundary wildlife protection and management, such as those established in southern Africa. The Chapter ends with the conclusion that the international community of states should immediately start meaningful initiatives to import the Aarhus principles of public participation and participatory human rights into the various types of IEG. The more normative features are aligned with each other in essence, the greater the chance that in future they will grow into a double-tracked concept that may be named ‘participatory equity’. Once having become a constituent part of IEG, this concept might gain considerable importance in international environmental relations, particularly by giving states important guidance for shaping ‘good’ IEG.

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