Human Rights For Healthy Environment
Human Rights For Nature
Human rights to a healthy environment has been adopted by more than 100 constitutions throughout the world, and it is frequently used as a strong weapon to conserve the natural world.
One of Costa Rica’s most important environmental pledges has a legal backstory that reads like a legal fairytale. It all started with a little child who wanted to reduce pollution in his area and finished with a constitutional revision over 30 years later. The consequences of the little boy’s efforts are still being felt today. It all started with a creek that ran through a tiny hamlet near the capital, San José, in 1992. Locals would toss their rubbish into the stream if there was no adequate waste management system in place, causing debris to pile up along the stream’s banks. Frustrated with the situation, Carlos Roberto Meja Chacón, then ten years old, filed an appeal against the local municipality with the aid of his family before Costa Rica’s constitutional chamber. Allowing the river to be used as a rubbish dump, he claimed, was a violation of the human right to life, which demands appropriate living circumstances and clean, protected rivers.
A year later, the chamber agreed with Chacón and ordered the town to clean up the rubbish and begin properly managing citizens’ waste. But it also led to a far deeper understanding. The justices reasoned that a clean and healthy environment, as well as balanced ecosystems, biodiversity, and other components of nature on which humans rely, are fundamental to human life. An overall healthy environment, like food, employment, shelter, and education, should be recognized a human right.
Some legal experts have argued that, in the face of a rising global environmental catastrophe, the right to a healthy environment serves as a critical legal avenue for protecting the natural world.
According to lawyer, who was involved in the legislative process at the time, this remarkable conclusion not only set a new legal standard for courts across the country, but also prompted the decision to carve the human right to a healthy environment into Costa Rica’s legal DNA during a constitutional reform in 1994. Since then, Costa Rica’s constitutional right has guided many of the country’s generally lauded – but far from flawless – environmental policies, as well as echoed throughout the country’s landscape and culture. He added that-I believe Costa Rica would be a different place if we didn’t create that link between human rights and the environment.
The human right to a healthy environment recognizes that nature is a cornerstone of a dignified human existence, as evidenced by a plethora of scientific data relating human welfare and the natural world. People rely on healthy ecosystems to provide clean water and air, provide seafood and pollinators, and absorb greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing this relationship on a legal level can help to improve human rights significantly.
But, as Cordero points out, the right also offers a strong foundation for protecting nature. In the face of an escalating global environmental crisis, some legal scholars argue that the right to a healthy environment serves as a critical legal pathway for protecting the natural world, encouraging governments to pass stronger environmental laws and allowing courts to hold violators accountable. Many court systems take such rights seriously, especially when they are enshrined in constitutions, and they are difficult to reverse, generating a long-lasting force that counteracts the interests that oppose environmental protection.
In several nations, such as Costa Rica, Colombia, and South Africa, the right has established a formidable bulwark against a rising tide of environmental damage. However, despite widespread scientific agreement on the advantages of nature to humans, the development of nature as a human right has been uneven throughout the globe. Many Latin American countries are gaining ground today, while Europe and North America are lagging behind.
Since the right was originally mentioned in The Stockholm Declaration in 1972 – the result of the first major environmental conference – it has been constitutionally recognized by over 110 nations. While its influence varies throughout the globe, it has served as a formidable barrier against a rising flood of environmental damage in several countries, including Costa Rica, Colombia, and South Africa, with more countries expected to follow suit in the near future.
Of yet, recognizing the right isn’t a magic wand we can wave to fix all of our problems, says David Boyd, an environmental lawyer who has been designated as a UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. It acts as a trigger for better behavior.
Indeed, according to some of Boyd’s research, countries with constitutions that include a right to a healthy environment – or other environmental obligations – have stronger environmental policies overall. According to studies by Indiana University of Pennsylvania economist Chris Jeffords, they’re also more likely to score higher on sustainable development measures. However, Jeffords warns that determining cause and effect can be difficult – are the rights themselves causing these advantages, or are environmentally progressive countries just more inclined to embrace such rights?
Costa Rica’s response appears to be a mix of the two. Although the country’s environmental policies and legislation began long before 1994, Cordero, who served as vice minister of Costa Rica’s environment and energy ministry from 2014 to 2018, believes that environmental protections have become more robust since the constitutional right was formally introduced. Costa Rica has conserved a quarter of its territory as national parks or reserves and reforested huge swathes of once-degraded terrain, in addition to obtaining 98 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
The country’s constitutional chamber has considered hundreds of cases regarding the right over the years, with many of them finding breaches. It has decided that murdering endangered green sea turtles and cutting the mountain almond tree, which is needed by the critically endangered great green macaw, are both unconstitutional, essentially making both acts illegal. The country’s moratoria on oil exploration and open-pit mining stem from legal battles for the right to a healthy environment.
In The Courtroom
According to César Rodrguez-Garavito, an international human rights and environmental law a specialist at New York University, similar instances have played out in many other Latin American nations that have accepted the right, such as Colombia, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.
You may practically fast-track a lawsuit in court if you can prove that a fundamental right is at issue. – César Rodrguez-Garavito (César Rodrguez-Garavito) Such regulations, according to Rodrguez-Garavito has influenced the way journalists portray environmental concerns – as something individuals have a right to, rather than merely a policy decision – and has enabled social justice organizations to mobilize the public, which might discourage future offenders. Human rights are used as trump cards in courts, producing more strong legal arguments over other factors such as economic freedom. Furthermore, in certain countries, such as Colombia, “You may basically fast-track a case in court if you can prove that a fundamental right is under jeopardy. As a result, choices are made considerably more quickly “he continues.
At the very least, Rodrguez-Garavito claims that the right to a healthy environment has slowed habitat destruction – particularly during the commodity boom of the 2000s, when metal prices soared to unprecedented heights, creating near-insurmountable pressure to open up rainforests and other fragile ecosystems to mining.
I’m willing to wager that those ecosystems would have been wiped out if there hadn’t been strong constitutional protection – both environmental and indigenous people’s rights, Rodrguez-Garavito adds. Of course, this does not imply that nature in South America is adequately protected; deforestation persists, and the region remains the most dangerous for environmental advocates. He observes that, like with other human rights, “there is an implementation gap.
This chasm also exists in South Africa, where the right is enshrined in the country’s celebratedly progressive 1996 constitution. However, the nation remains deeply unequal, with some of the world’s most filthy air and a high prevalence of respiratory illnesses. Pooven Moodley, a human rights lawyer with Natural Justice, a non-profit that works with local communities across Africa to give legal help on environmental justice problems, believes that until people go to court, you’re not going to see that right being honored. While not many towns have taken that right to court yet, he claims it is becoming more common. It’s critical because it’s something we can refer to, something we can use to question other laws or practices – whether they’re imposed by governments or the private sector.
According to Kiji Vukikomoala, a lawyer who organizes Fiji’s Environmental Legislation Association, the law has yet to be used in courts in Fiji, possibly because individuals – particularly politically marginalized groups – are still ignorant of their rights or can’t afford the expensive legal process. However, she claims that her organization has recently witnessed a rise in demand from communities interested in taking such cases to court. As the consequences grow, I believe a lot more of our folks will be thinking carefully about questioning a lot of these issues and the government’s lack of implementation or enforcement.
For example, the right may have impacted parts of Slovenia’s environmental policies, despite the country’s abundance of greenery and strong recycling programs. But, according to ambassador Sabina Stadler Repnik, permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, the major influence has been to shape the country’s mindset toward environment, as demonstrated by its school system, which includes comprehensive curriculum on sustainability. “I believe the educational aspect of this right is more essential [and] where we can do more in the long run than just going to court and battling for years and years,” says the author.
And, according to Gay, many judges in several European nations disputed whether constitutional environmental rights were just political manifestos when they were originally enacted. However, “judges in a growing number of nations are rejecting such viewpoints and recognizing the binding consequences [of the right],” according to the report.
For example, environmental organizations contended that allowing oil drilling in the Arctic was illegal in a high-profile climate litigation in Norway. The state did have a responsibility to safeguard residents from environmental harm, according to the Supreme Court. The court did, however, decide that drilling licenses did not violate the right, partly because the state should not be held liable for emissions from oil it exports.
France, on the other hand, has gone a step farther. According to Sebastién Mabile, an environmental lawyer with the Paris-based legal services firm Seattle Avocats, the “duty of vigilance” regulation, which was enacted in 2017, corporations are accountable for preventing human rights or environmental abuses throughout their entire supply chains.
Evidently, the right to a healthy environment needs a few more elements for it to function properly, not least the desire to enforce it and legal systems free of political interference, both of which are not available in all 110 nations that have the right. According to Jeffords, human rights are most effective when they are combined with other constitutional rights and legislation that make it simpler for individuals to go to court and obtain information about their rights.
And, as Moodley points out, environmental preservation must coexist with other human rights, citing governments that have removed indigenous populations from protected regions in the name of conservation. However, when applied effectively, as in Latin America, constitutional rights may safeguard human rights as well as the environment — without impeding economic progress; Costa Rica is a middle-income country whose main exports are electronics, software, and ecotourism.
Algeria, The Gambia, Chile, Canada, and Scotland are among the nations contemplating incorporating the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions or general law. However, several of the world’s wealthiest countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and Japan have yet to formally explore it. Meanwhile, Boyd continues to campaign for UN recognition, which may require additional nations to recognize and enhance it, as well as provide mechanisms for holding governments accountable on a global scale.
Human rights are often considered to have their origins in wrongdoings. Out of the ruins of World War II came the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. Its writers could not have predicted a worldwide environmental disaster or a plethora of scientific studies proving the value of nature to human well-being at the time. However, it is arguable that such contracts are intended to change and adapt to new dangers to the people they rule. “If we keep going down this route, we’re going to be in a lot of problems from a human rights standpoint, Boyd warns. If we don’t stand up and take the measures, we know are necessary and achievable to safeguard and restore our lovely world.