Environmental Human Rights


Dr Ashley Dodsworth (University of Bristol, UK), Ashley.dodsworth@bristol.ac.uk

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

With the realization that we live in the anthropocene, a geological era characterized by human activity and impact, comes the realization that many of our political concepts may need to be reassessed. Central to our political thinking and framework is the concept of human rights, and there has been an explosion of theoretical interest in the relations, tensions and possibilities that connect human rights theory and environmental political theory. After the success of last year’s workshop, it is clear that retheorising environmental human rights is a good place to start. We therefore seek to advance and continue this work in order to meet the challenges of the anthropocene era.

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; Bos and Düwell 2016), 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 have been settled with the recognition of a new era. Yet there are further questions that have hitherto been comparatively neglected, and which these workshops have begun to explore.

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 four following ways: Firstly, the human-rights approaches are seemingly anthropocentric, and debate remains as to whether and how they are compatible with non-anthropocentric goals. Secondly, the concept of human rights is both varied and contested, and the questions and debates that result have implications. Exploring these debates and these questions is crucial to our ability to theories environmental rights. Thirdly, human-rights approaches can inform incoherent sets of policies and thus involve choices in cases of conflicting rights; choices which are politically and morally influenced. These tensions are heightened when applied to environmental rights by the fact that the subject of such rights is finite and limited. The theory and practice of environmental rights therefore may differ, and indeed may have to do so. Fourthly, the enforcement of human rights is also a cosmopolitan mission with non-domestic courts, and it is of interest to study tensions between various agencies, both national and international. Taken together, these points indicate that the human-rights approach comes in many possible forms that involve and express ideological commitments, and whether this will compliment or contradict environmental factors is worthy of further research. We invite papers that advance our understanding of the theory of environmental human rights by engaging with these and related fields and questions.

This workshop is part of the annual MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory and will take place from 7th – 9th September 2016. Scholars at any stage of their career are invited to submit a paper. Please send an abstract of 400 words to both the conveners by 31st May 2016 at the email addresses above.

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