In Defense of Environmental Rights in East European Constitutions

University of Chicago Law School Roundtable, Vol, 1, p. 191, 1993

27 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2007


Western experts have extensively counseled East European constitution drafters regarding the dangers of including various social and economic rights within their constitutions. These advisors often criticize provisions that guarantee a right to a clean environment or make the protection of the environment a duty of the state. Such provisions are condemned as holdovers from the old communist constitutions and are branded as unenforceable or as luxuries that the bankrupt economies of Eastern Europe cannot afford. Each of these arguments has some grounds for support.

However, the environmental provisions within East European constitutions could be both enforceable and effective if the drafters applied the lessons learned from 20 years of experience under U.S. state constitutions' environmental provisions. More than 30 U.S. states have constitutional provisions that deal with either the environment or specific natural resources. The successes and failures of these state constitutions' environmental provisions suggest how to draft such provisions to be self-executing and enforceable.

The East Europeans should implement enforceable environmental laws, both constitutional and statutory; for them, environmental protection is a necessity, not a luxury. Eastern Europe is an environmental disaster area. Forty-five years of communism resulted in lives significantly shortened by exposure to pollution, forests destroyed by acid rain, waters polluted with industrial waste and sewage, and air unbreathable in many places.

The transformation of Eastern Europe's economies to capitalism will have a significant impact on the environment, unless Eastern Europe undertakes sustainable development. The right mix of policies and assistance will promote economic growth while protecting and cleaning up the environment. Unfortunately, much of the current advice and aid to Eastern Europe fails to accomplish either. As Dr. Karolyi Kiss, a leading economist at the Institute for World Economics in Hungary, commented, [w]hat we would really like is for just one Western country to step forward as a patron saint of sustainable development.

Keywords: Eastern Europe, Environmental Law, Constitution

JEL Classification: K32, N50, Q28

Suggested Citation

Brown, Elizabeth F., In Defense of Environmental Rights in East European Constitutions. University of Chicago Law School Roundtable, Vol, 1, p. 191, 1993, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth F. Brown (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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