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With policy and law-makers under pressure to subordinate environmental concerns to short-term economic imperatives, environmental advocates are increasingly looking to human rights as a means of reinforcing the importance of environmental protection to human welfare. Domestic, regional and international human rights laws present a range of opportunities and challenges for addressing harms done to the environment. There are also a number of conceptual concerns with framing environmental issues in terms of human rights. Students will work as a class and in small groups to understand the relationship between human rights law and environmental protection at domestic, regional and international levels. The subject will provide insight into strategic aspects of human rights advocacy for the environment, using case studies to explore the roles of state and non-state actors in environmental protection and to consider a range of approaches in the different regions of the world. Resources drawing from academic, policy and advocacy material will be used to interrogate practical and critical perspectives on human rights law and environmental protection.
Principal topics include:
- The relationship between human rights and the environment in theory and practice
- Human rights that protect the environment, including general rights such as the rights to privacy, health and to information as well as specific rights ‘to’ and ‘of’ the environment
- Domestic, regional and international governance of human rights in relation to the environment
- Sustainable development and its relevance to issues of human rights and the environment in the different regions of the world
- The implications of human rights law for indigenous peoples and environmental protection
- The roles and responsibilities of non-state actors in relation to ‘environmental rights’, including environmental advocates and businesses
- Channels for redress beyond formal legal mechanisms for people and for ‘nature’.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have thorough knowledge of the principal instruments that protect human rights and ‘environmental rights’ and their governance structures, including their enforcement mechanisms, at domestic, regional and international levels
- Be able to critically examine, analyse, interpret and assess the theoretical and practical bases for engaging human rights to protect the environment
- Have an advanced understanding of ‘environmental rights’ and the relationship between human rights law and environmental protection, including recent developments at domestic, regional and international levels
- Be an engaged participant in debate regarding contemporary issues in areas such as the rights of indigenous peoples with respect to environmental protection as well as the roles and responsibilities of actors other than states, such as businesses, in environmental matters that impact human rights
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical and creative ideas relating to the use of human rights to protect the environment, including ideas of rights of nature
- Have the technical and communication skills to describe cases in which environmental rights have been applied and to evaluate critically the decisions from theoretical perspectives to reach independent conclusions on the efficacy of a human rights approach to environmental protection.
Last updated: 11 February 2021