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Human rights and the environment: a tale of ambivalence and hope

Grear, Anna ORCID: 2022. Human rights and the environment: a tale of ambivalence and hope. Fisher, Douglas, ed. Research Handbook on Fundamental Concepts of Environmental Law, Second Edition, Vol. 2. Research Handbooks in Environmental Law, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 123-140. (10.4337/9781839108327)
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Deeply significant concerns lie behind contemporary efforts to bring human rights law and environmental law into productive and progressive alignment. The twenty-first century sees the Earth’s living systems under relentless and destructive pressure from the adverse impacts of industrial capitalist and consumer lifestyles. Simultaneously—along with the multitudes of defenceless living species adversely affected by environmental degradation—millions of human beings are increasingly placed at profound environmental risk and forced to suffer brutally uneven impacts of economic globalization, deepening vulnerability, escalating violence and the rapidly proliferating erection of physical barriers in an expulsive ‘age of walls’. Despite the urgency of the need for their convergence, the relationship between human rights and environmental obligations faces genuinely complex challenges. First, there is the frequently discussed risk of conflicts between, on the one hand, environmental policies, rules, rights and responsibilities and, on the other hand, the human rights to development, privacy and private property. Second, there is a related perception that the methodological individualism of mainstream human rights discourse impedes the collective action necessary to rescue ‘the environment’ from practices that degrade its quality. Third, there are ongoing issues concerning rights. These include questions of whose rights and which rights are to take priority in a conflict of legal paradigms. Such complexity extends, quite naturally, to the vexed question of whether the two institutionally separated international legal orders of human rights law and environmental law can be reconciled in a productive and progressive manner. This chapter will argue that international environmental law and international human rights law—despite the existence of very real tensions between them—show hopeful signs of progress in their relationship. Notwithstanding such hopeful signs, however, both human rights law and environmental law share underlying subject-object relations inimical to their stated aims. This reality, once acknowledged, however, might with sufficient imagination become the departure point for their reconfigured engagement and transformation.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: In Press
Schools: Law
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing
ISBN: 9781839108310
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 August 2022
Last Modified: 10 Nov 2022 11:48

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