A human rights-based approach to protecting the environment : status, critique and alternatives

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Kirilov, Kaloyan
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The consequences of human-made climate change are already felt, with more than half of the world’s animal population depleted between 1970 and 2014. The effects of humans on every aspect of our natural environment have made scientists consider that we are living in a sixth geological epoch – the Anthropocene, defined as humans being the main factor affecting the geology of our planet. Meanwhile, the legal system has failed to respond properly to the scientific knowledge that illuminates human intervention in the environment. This thesis focuses on providing an analysis from socio-legal and critical perspectives on a human rights-based approach to protecting the environment. In its first part, it focuses on the current legal status of such a right, its purpose and legal regime, and the benefits it brings as a legal tool, which aims to protect the environment. In its second part, this legal instrument is subjected to critiques regarding its flaws, such as its political character, its weakness as an economic, social or cultural right, the occurrence of conflicts of rights as well as its anthropocentricity. In its final part, the thesis will present two alternative, yet complementary legal instruments to a human rights-based approach – namely, environmental law and rights of nature. The former is the traditional way of protecting the environment; the latter will bring forward the concept that we should detach from our anthropocentric approach and apply an approach that is inclusive to natural objects and respectful of their interests. Both will be analysed in the context of the right to a healthy environment. Throughout this thesis, I argue that despite its many flaws, a human right to a healthy environment is necessary for the better protection of the environment in the current legal context. Thus, international recognition thereof can bring about many benefits and negate some of the current flaws of this right, such as the vagueness of its meaning and the lack of uniformity of its regime throughout the globe. From a more general perspective, however, I present the idea of attributing rights to natural objects as a way to have more interests represented, strengthen environmental interests and protection, and apply a more holistic approach to understanding how different actors interact with each other. Finally, I argue that all three legal instruments analysed in this thesis should be used together, in a complementary way, in order to maximise their efficiency and take most out of the benefits they bring about.
Second semester University: University of Helsinki
climatic changes, environment, human rights, environmental law