What are the most iconic articles on the subject of environmental justice?
Help us compile a list of essential readings in environmental justice by posting your suggestions in the comments below!
Feature image: Dina Townsend
Issue 8.2 of the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment on the theme “Crisis, injustice and response” is now available (see here).
In particular, many of you will be pleased to see a co-authored article discussing “The Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change” which was developed by this network.
The issue contains the following articles:
The GNHRE has issued a call-to-action for governments around the world in a Draft Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change (The Declaration) ahead of the Paris Climate Summit beginning on 30 November. The Declaration outlines a crucial shift in the way that states should respond to climate change. The Declaration was drafted by GNHRE scholars and experts from all over the world. Combining new thinking and existing international human rights law, the Declaration presents an alternative formulation of rights that foregrounds human rights while simultaneously protecting the rights of non-human persons and living systems from climate harms.
The Declaration is intended to be a practical, thought-provoking and nuanced challenge designed to transform the climate debate. The Declaration addresses the structural unfairness in current patterns of vulnerability to climate change and the need to address the limitations of market-based approaches to the climate challenge, and has been delivered ahead of Paris COP21 in the hope that this timely and necessary intervention gains the full and serious consideration it deserves.
Please can everyone who wants to support this initiative by endorsing the Declaration, either individually or on behalf of an organisation you represent, please do so by emailing Kirsten Davies, who is collating a list of endorsers. Her email is: email@example.com
The text of the Declaration follows:
Guided by the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action of the World Conference of Human Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, The Nagoya Protocol and other relevant international instruments incorporating human rights,
Guided by the Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Charter for Nature, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and other relevant instruments of international environmental law,
Reaffirming the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights,
Recognizing the radical dependency of all life on earth on a healthy Earth system,
Recognizing that climate impacts caused by the human industrial and consumer activities on the planetary lifecycle, disproportionally affect the poor, women and children, the vulnerable, small island communities, developing countries and least developed countries, future generations and innumerable non-human natural persons and living systems,
Recognizing that courts and jurists of international standing link the fulfillment of human rights to a secure, healthy and ecologically sound environment, and that this necessarily includes human rights related to climate harms,
Recognizing that human and non-human natural persons and living systems are affected by climate harm and that it is the stewardship responsibility of human beings to respect and protect the rights of non-human natural persons and living systems,
Recognizing that science confirms the threat of climate change on the livelihoods and well-being of present and future generations,
Deeply concerned by the severe human rights consequences of the continuing political failure to reach firm commitments on climate mitigation and adaptation; by the dominance of the market as the supreme value coordinating international responses to the climate crisis; and by the lack of direct responsibility in international human rights law for corporate actors violating human and environmental human rights,
Convinced that the potential irreversibility of climate change effects gives rise to an urgent need for new forms of state and non-state accountability and liability,
The series begins with Critical Reflections on Ownership written by Mary Warnock.
In this thought provoking work, Mary Warnock explores what it is to own things, and the differences in our attitude to what we own and what we do not.
Starting from the philosophical standpoints of Locke and Hume, the ownership of gardens is presented as a prime example, exploring both private and common ownership, historically and autobiographically. Concluding that, besides pleasure and pride, ownership brings a sense of responsibility for what is owned, a fundamental question is brought to light. Can we feel the same responsibility for what we do not, and never can, own? Applying this question to the natural world and the planet as a whole, a realistic and gradualist perspective is offered on confronting global environmental degradation. Critical Reflections on Ownership examines the effect of the Romantic Movement on our attitudes to nature and is a salient commentary on the history of ideas.
‘Mary Warnock’s Critical Reflections on Ownership is a sustained meditation on the significance that ownership has for us from one of our finest philosophical voices. First exploring the responsibility and love we have for things that are owned, she goes on to provide a penetrating investigation of the relationship we have to those things which we do not, indeed cannot, own, in particular the natural world. Critical Reflections on Ownership is required reading for anyone who wants to think deeply, and clearly, about the prospect of a global environmental cataclysm and what we might do to address it.’
J E Penner, author of The Idea of Property in Law
Dutch citizens win climate case against the State: 24 June 2015
Together with 886 citizens, Dutch NGO Urgenda brought a climate liability case against the Dutch state. I joined this case as one of the co-plaintiffs. Our argument was that the Dutch state neglects its duty of care towards us—its current and future citizens—by not reducing CO2 emissions quickly enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. We asked the judge to order the Dutch State to reduce its CO2 emissions with 25-40 % in 2020, the percentage that science and international agreements tell us is needed if we want to stay below the 2 degrees threshold.
Today was ‘judgment day’ and I what I heard in that courtroom exceeded my hopes and expectations. In a groundbreaking verdict, the judges agreed fully with the arguments presented by us and stated that the Dutch state has a duty of care, under Dutch tort law, to reduce its C02 emission to 25% in 2020. The court ruled that Urgenda had standing and that the State acted unlawfully towards Urgenda, representing 886 citizens, under national tort law.
The court used European human rights standards, such as art. 2 and 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights; the precautionary principle; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and the treaty of the European Union to interpret the ‘equity’ principle of the Dutch tort article (art. 6:162 Civil Code) and concluded that the Dutch state is liable for a tort of negligence towards Urgenda. The argument of the State’s defence, that climate policy is a matter of discretion for the executive power, was brushed aside when the court appealed to the protective logic of the rule of law and the separation of powers: the judiciary’s rightful place is to offer citizens protection when the executive exercises its power in such a way that endangers the wellbeing and human rights of citizens, and this includes the negligence of a government refusing to take timely climate action.
We, co-litigants, and the defence attorneys for Urgenda were amazed by the boldness of the court. I was deeply touched to think that something really seems to be changing in the world, signalled by the decision of this court. The court could have so easily have hidden behind arguments like ‘the discretionary power of the executive to determine climate policy’, or ‘the relatively small contribution of the Netherlands to the global emission problem, thus refusing to establish proportionate liability’ or ‘the lack of a strong enough causal link between the actions of the Dutch state and the future damage caused by climate change’—let alone by simply refusing to grant Urgenda standing. Yet with all these arguments available to it, the court made a bold decision to take responsibility for its duty to acknowledge scientific facts, apply the law and do justice in this matter of extreme societal importance.
For me it was a moment in which my idealism touched ground and merged with the hopes of the other 100 co-litigants present in the room (some of whom held hands—and many shed tears). Hopes were confirmed and ‘mirrored’ by the words of the judge who agreed with our most important grievances and demands. Such was the surprise that Urgenda‘s lawyers had to pull themselves together afterwards, overcome with emotion and relief—TV news images later showed their teary faces and yet none of them really tried to hide their tears: they were proud to admit that they had put their whole heart into this case —into what they described as ‘the case of their lifetimes’. I cannot help but think that some of this wholeheartedness rubbed off on the judges in this rightful judgment.
Regardless of whether the State will appeal against the decision, this was a huge victory for climate activists and environmental lawyers all over the world. It gives encouragement and sound legal arguments to NGO’s in other countries, and the opportunity to start similar class actions on behalf of current and future generations. It is my wish that this precedent will be followed by many more similar such cases in other jurisdictions, forming a ‘ius commune’ on climate justice, and that other lawyers and co-litigants will dedicate themselves as wholeheartedly to these cases as we did here in the Netherlands on this historic day.