Right to Carbon or Right to Life: Human Rights Approaches to Climate Change (S. Kravchenko)


Svitlana Kravchenko


International Environmental Law, UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, ICJ, Human Rights, Global Warming, Access to Information, Public Participation


Human rights form a central part of the thought system of many people in the world, including those in the United States. The enforcement of “rights” in the legal system does not, by itself, change government policy, but the embedding of rights in our thought systems can. I want to ask whether the concept of human rights has a role to play in changing minds–and more importantly, hearts–in our political system. The reason that I focus on hearts is that changes there are more permanent; and where the heart goes, the head tends to follow.

If we come to see human-caused global climate change as violating fundamental human rights–as something as unacceptable as other gross violations of human rights–perhaps we can make the breakthrough in our politics that is essential. Perhaps we can rescue ourselves from the planetary emergency that Al Gore, in the quote above, sees so clearly. Perhaps we can overcome the limitations of human nature that Aristotle saw so clearly more than two millennia ago. Perhaps that which is “common to the greatest number”–the precious planet that sustains our lives–may come to have not the least care, but our loving care, bestowed upon it.


(2008) 9 Vermont Journal of Environmental Law 513


Right to Carbon or Right to Life: Human Rights Approaches to Climate Change