The Right to a Clean Environment under International Law -Defining the Scope and Content of an Emerging Right
Damilola S. Olawuyi
University of Oxford
February 1, 2008
Ever since the 1972 Stockholm Declaration proclaimed that man's natural and man made environment are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of his basic human rights-including the right to life, there seems to be a consensus amongst scholars that formally creating and acknowledging the right to clean environment as a human right under international law and giving content and effect it could be a good way of encouraging the international community and governments to enhance their efforts to ensure sustainability in the use of the environment.
However, certain critical questions arise in relation to a right to environment which are yet unanswered. Firstly, considering the jurisprudential connotation of the concept of rights, can the right to a clean environment be described as a universal moral right which all men, everywhere, at all times ought to have? Can it and should it be accorded the status of a separate basic right under international law? If yes, why do we need a distinct right to clean environment? What will be the benefits of having such a right? Secondly, what would be the exact scope, extent and content of such a right? Thirdly, under what conditions would the failure to reduce environmental degradation be described as a violation of the right to a clean environment? What mechanisms would be required for its effective implementation?; and lastly, considering the limitless nature of the environment and the global nature of certain environmental concerns, how will victims of environmental degradation overcome procedural issues of jurisdiction, proper parties and proper venue? This paper addresses these critical questions in some details. It attempts to provide answers to these questions while analyzing the contributions which a human right to clean environment could make in our quest for attaining global sustainability.
working papers series
Date posted: February 22, 2008
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