Human Rights and the Evolution of Global Environmental Law (R.V. Percival)


Robert V. Percival


environmental concerns, environmental standards, human rights, international law


Environmental problems that jeopardize the health of humans increasingly implicate concerns that have played an important role in the development of international human rights. While some have questioned the wisdom or effectiveness of focusing human rights concerns on environmental problems, it seems an inevitable response to the failure of many countries to protect their citizens adequately from harm caused by environmental degradation. This paper reviews efforts to apply human rights concerns to environmental problems. It describes how these developments illustrate the growth of a kind of “global environmental law” that blurs traditional distinctions between domestic and international law and public and private law. It explores how principles of human rights are influencing the evolution of global environmental law with particular emphasis on the emerging right of humans to access adequate supplies of safe water.

The chapter concludes that environmental standards can be expected to improve significantly in the developing world as countries devote greater effort to upgrading their legal and technological infrastructures to prevent environmental harm. Although the growing global recognition of human rights to a clean and healthy environment is encouraging, full achievement of its promise must depend for the immediate future on the development of enforceable domestic laws. Yet as governments and environmental NGOs increasingly coordinate their efforts through global networks, global environmental law will continue to evolve to promote a healthier planet with greater respect for human rights.


R. V. Percival, Human Rights and the Evolution of Global Environmental Law (2013). Subhram Rajkhowa and Stuti Deka, eds., Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, vol. 2. Eastern Book House, Guwahati, India, 2013; U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-66


Human Rights and the Evolution of Global Environental Law