Theorising Environmental Human Rights

The environmental challenges we face today emerge in the context of a political framework deeply shaped by the norms and institutions of human rights. This is reflected both in national and international legal settings – including the 2012 appointment of an Independent Expert on the Environment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – and in an explosion of theoretical interest in the relations, tensions and possibilities that connect human rights theory and environmental political theory.

To date, much scholarly attention has been directed to the question of the coherence of environmental human rights (Boyle and Anderson 1991; Hayward 2005; Woods 2010), the environmental rights of future generations (Hiskes 2009; Düwell et al, forthcoming), the possibilities of the human rights framework for accommodating the rights of non-humans (Hancock 2003), specific substantial issues such as the human right to water (Risse 2014) and more recently the human rights implications of climate change (Caney 2006; Humphries et al 2010; Bell 2012; Lister 2014). It would be premature to suggest that many of these questions are settled. Yet there are further questions that have hitherto been comparatively neglected, but which merit further study.

The approaches to environmental protection and conservation based on the ideas of human rights are neither politically nor morally neutral. This is clear at least in the three following ways: Firstly, human-rights approaches are seemingly anthropocentric, but debate persists as to whether and how they are incompatible with non-anthropocentric approaches. Secondly, the notion of human rights can be, and has been, used as a basis for the environmentalist critique of actual policies and customs. Accordingly, legal reforms have been introduced  recognising a right to participate in environmental decision making (most notably the Aarhus Convention, IEA). Many people, however, consider these reforms and related theoretical reflections inadequate. New debates emerge. One particularly promising possibility lies in consideration of the connections between environmental and human security and safety and the opportunities offered by the rights framework. A potentially complementary avenue for research is to be found in the emerging study of vulnerability as a theoretical lens, which has been developed in feminist human rights theory, but has yet to be brought into sustained dialogue with environmental conceptions of risk and resilience. Thirdly, human-rights approaches can inform incoherent sets of policies and thus involve choices in cases of conflicting rights; these choices are politically and morally inflected. Taken together, these points indicate that the human-rights approach comes in many possible forms that involve and express ideological commitments.

In this workshop, as part of the annual Mancept Workshops in Political Theory , 1st-3rd September 2015, we invite papers that advance our understanding of the theory of environmental human rights by engaging with these and related fields and questions. Scholars at any stage of their career are welcome to submit a paper. Please send an abstract (max. 350  words) to both convenors by 7 June, 2014 at the email addresses below.

Please note: full papers for the workshop will be pre-circulated.

Convenors:

Dr Kerri Woods (Leeds, UK), k.woods@leeds.ac.uk

Dr Markku Oksanen (University of Eastern Finland, Finland), markku.oksanen@uef.fi

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