Environment and human rights

Is protecting planet Earth, and not just the rights of the humans who inhabit it, the more urgent task?

The link between the natural environment and human rights is well-established. Among others, rights to clean water, to health, to a secure livelihood and to life itself are threatened by environmental degradation. And those challenging such degradation, and opposing projects harmful to the environment, are harassed, intimidated, beaten and killed; over 200 environmental activists were killed in 2017. There is a growing consensus for global recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

But even if the UN proclaims such a right, will it be enough? The facts are clear – catastrophic climate change, declining biodiversity, mass extinctions, plastic-polluted oceans, all are upon us, and it is we, as humans, who are doing the damage. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change adds considerable urgency to efforts to address those issues.

In countries where the right to a healthy environment is already protected, has it made a difference? How are local activists using this right to advance environmental goals? Are new approaches needed? For example, instead of proclaiming new human rights, perhaps we should grant rights to nature itself, and thereby break the age-old assumption that it is ours to exploit. A small but growing global movement is arguing for such an approach through direct action, litigation and other forms of advocacy. Can it succeed, and if nature has rights, will these cohabit easily with human rights?

Global movements to protect human rights and to protect the environment have, so far, remained largely distinct. But perhaps the environmental crisis facing the planet demands a re-think – can these movements work together for common goals, or would that dilute the strengths of each?  What examples are there of successful collaboration between human rights and environmental activists?


Unprecedented ruling for Indigenous peoples by Inter-American Court of Human Rights

By: Matías Duarte & Diego Morales & Erika Schmidhuber Peña

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has set a precedent with its decision to grant territorial and ancestral rights to Indigenous peoples in Argentina—how ...

Can protecting indigenous human rights also improve conservation efforts?

By: Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
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Lands under secure indigenous tenure often have better conservation outcomes—can stronger protections around indigenous rights also protect the environment?

Climate change and human rights: lessons from litigation for the Amazon

By: César Rodríguez-Garavito

Lawsuits have become an increasingly frequent route for urgent action on climate change, but the impact of this litigation depends on citizens’ mobilization

If nature has rights, who legitimately defends them?

By: Arpitha Kodiveri

Who speaks for nature’s rights? The question needs careful consideration, or we risk in protecting nature to further disenfranchise the already marginalized.

Litigating the right to a sustainable climate system

By: Jacqueline Peel & Hari M. Osofsky
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As the climate crisis deepens, can litigation advancing a human right to a stable and sustainable climate system make a difference?

Rights as a response to ecological apocalypse

By: David R. Boyd
Français | العربية | Español

Recognizing the human right to live in a healthy environment, and the rights of nature itself, are both essential to securing humanity and the planet’s future.

Human and non-human rights – convergence or conflict?

By: David Petrasek
Español | Français | العربية

On the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, claims to recognize non-human rights are advancing and pose challenges to the anthropocentrism at the heart of the human rights ...

The rights of nature gaining ground

By: Mari Margil
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Nature has been treated in law as property, and exploited. But there is growing legal recognition that nature has rights, and affirming these is essential to both ...

The struggle for nonhuman rights

By: Steven M. Wise
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The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that certain animals should be legal persons. In the world of rights, what divides persons and things?

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