Constituting Fundamental Environmental Rights Worldwide

70 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2009

See all articles by James May

James May

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: January 1, 2006


This article discusses the extent to which nations worldwide have constituted such "fundamental environmental rights" (FERs). Constitutions provide a framework for social order. They also reflect a paradox. While constitutions are usually the product of a convulsive event of majoritarian democracy, most contain antimajoritarian features designed to protect so-called fundamental rights against the tyranny of the majority. Traditional fundamental rights, such as those found in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States, include protecting for its citizens free speech, religious exercise and voting rights. Does a fundamental, enforceable, individual right to a clean and healthy environment belong in the pantheon of fundamental constitutional rights? Of all facets of constitutional environmental protection, fundamental environmental rights are the most salient. Incorporating fundamental environmental rights into national constitutions holds some hope to address environmental challenges, namely the ones that matter most to society's members. However, although the constitutions of nearly one-quarter of the world contain fundamental environmental rights, less than a dozen have been held to be self-executing and enforceable by affected individuals. Thus, while the wildfire of constituting FERs continues to burn, they will need to mature into enforceable norms to realize their potential and provide warmth and means for national environmental challenges around the globe.

Keywords: environmental law, constitutions, constitutional law, fundamental environmental rights, environment

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

May, James, Constituting Fundamental Environmental Rights Worldwide (January 1, 2006). Pace Environmental Law (PELR) Review, Vol. 23, 2005-2006. Available at SSRN:

James May (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States

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