Approaches on Human Rights and Environmental Protection

The change in approach towards Human Rights and environmental issues could roughly be set out in three stages.

First approach

The first rights-based approach, perhaps closest to that of the Stockholm Declaration, understands environmental protection as a pre-condition to the enjoyment of internationally guaranteed human rights, especially the rights to life and health. Environmental protection is thus an essential instrument in the effort to secure the effective universal enjoyment of human rights. Those who pollute or destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature, but are violating human rights as well.

Second approach

The second rights-based approach, most common in international environmental agreements since 1992, is also instrumentalist, but instead of viewing environmental protection as an essential element of human rights, it views certain human rights as essential elements to achieving environmental protection, which has as a principal aim the protection of human health. This approach is well-illustrated by the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted at the conclusion of the 1992 Conference of Rio de Janeiro on Environment and Development. It formulates a link between human rights and environmental protection largely in procedural terms, declaring in Principle 10 that access to information, public participation and access to effective judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, should be guaranteed because environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. Thus, these procedural rights, contained in all human rights instruments, are adopted in environmental texts in order to have better environmental decision-making and enforcement.

Third approach

The third, and most recent approach views the links as indivisible and inseparable and thus posits the right to a safe and healthy environment as an independent substantive human right. At present, examples of this are found mainly in regional human rights systems, environmental treaties and national law. And in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Most formulations of the right to environment qualify it by words such as "healthy", "safe", "secure" or "clean", making clear the link between environmental protection and the aim of human health. Some specifically mention environmental protection (including wildlife and/or ecosystems) and some link to the benefit of future generations.

The headers below will now provide and examine Treaties and declarations in the fields of human rights and environmental protection, The decisions of human rights bodies that link human rights, health, and environmental protection and Regional or national provisions, laws and jurisprudence.

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