Do We Need a Human Right to a Healthy Environment?

In a new article, “Do We Need a Human Right to a Healthy Environment,” Professor Rebecca Bratspies writes, “Just as a healthy environment can contribute to the enjoyment of human rights, there is a growing sense that environmental degradation and climate change have ‘generally negative effects on the realization of human rights.’ Thus, there is a growing sense that the goal of realizing human rights necessarily entails protecting the environment.”

Read the full article.

Professor Rebecca Bratspies

Professor Rebecca Bratspies

Her paper was a contribution to a 2014 symposium on “The Environment and Human Rights,” co-hosted by the Santa Clara University Center for Global Law and Policy and the Santa Clara Journal of International Law.

In his response to the article, Marcos Orellana, director of the Human Rights and Environment Program at the Center for International Environmental Law, began:

Professor Bratspies’s analysis of the human rights and environmental linkages addresses a point often missed in the literature, namely the notion that while human rights establish a limit to state sovereignty by affirming the international community’s interest in their promotion and effective enjoyment, environmental policy is premised on the sovereign rights of states, including with respect to use and exploitation of natural resources. In other words, while human rights law recasts sovereignty and makes treatment of humans within boundaries an issue of international concern, international environmental law is firmly anchored in national sovereignty and excludes international oversight over national environmental policy. How this apparent contradiction of terms is reconciled appears to be a key legal and policy dilemma.

Bratspies is a professor and the founding director of CUNY Law’s Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER). Her teaching and scholarly research focus on environmental and public international law, with a particular emphasis on how legal systems govern the global commons and how law can further sustainable development. She has published widely on the topics of environmental liability, regulatory uncertainty, regulation of international fisheries, and regulation of genetically modified food crops.