In 2021 and 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly endorsed resolutions recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. While broadly lauded as a breakthrough for environmental protection, experts remain divided on whether a non-binding resolution will be able to overcome a lack of consensus and vested interests within and between states or mark a critical step towards tighter environmental accountability and enforcement. One point of agreement is that, from a pragmatic viewpoint, emphasis should target state-level implementation of these resolutions. Indeed, the urgency of the climate crisis demands a time-sensitive response, and domestic laws and policies are the most effective and expedient tools by which to challenge ecologically harmful projects and policies.
This begs important questions about the factors that have enabled or dissuaded states from integrating environmental rights into domestic law.
This project will start by identifying what enabling conditions correlate with or explain a state’s decision to recognize the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in domestic law, taking into account variables such as risk exposure, market impact, litigation, governance, civil society activity, voter opinion, economic reasoning and other factors. Variables that are found to be significant will be cross-tested in countries that have not recognized environmental rights in domestic law, to validate the findings.
It will also examine the impact of this recognition on corporate policy, planning and decision-making with a view to better understanding the enabling conditions for cleaner manufacturing, agricultural and infrastructure projects.
The research will ultimately tackle the broader questions around the impact of this recognition –specifically the efficacy of soft law on formal accountability processes, and how this right has promoted a more integrated understanding of environmental challenges.