Introduction Since the previous century, human rights have extensively been given attention as a distinct field of study. Humanity has largely benefitted from this recognition. The same is the case for the environment.
People have realized that protection of the environment is crucial towards the preservation of life on earth. However, the two have been viewed as two separate fields. People have not often seen the relationship between the two fields. The following paper is an attempt to integrate the two fields and establish a mutual relationship that exists between them.
It answers the question of whether the environment can be regarded as a human right concern. The paper moreover establishes the stance of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on environmental protection and discusses the complicated relationship between the two fields.
The environment should be regarded as a human rights concern. This is because the definition and protection of human rights is geared towards legal efforts and provisions that amount to the preservation of human life.
Since the link between human life and the environment is irrefutable, it therefore follows that environmental conservation is in the broader domain of protection of human life. The environment is directly linked with human factors of concern such as health, longevity, food, water and clean air[ CITATION Rom10 \I 1033 ]. This traditional perspective of the relationship merely shows the significance of the environment to individual lives. In the current world, it is often asserted that it is everyone’s responsibility to care for the environment. However, the power that individuals possess in affecting positive change is minimal when compared to that of governments, hence the need to view this relationship on a state level. A perspective of environmental care based on human rights is an effective way to ensure that governments all over the world take the initiative to protect its environment so as not to deny its citizens their human right; the right to healthy decent environments. The tying of environmetal protection to the right to life is a strong gesture that gives environmentalists the much needed legal backing to further their agenda. This is by shifting accountability for degraded environments from the individual to the state. Following this, the environmentally hazardous effects of large corporations can be minimized since their right to produce is preceded by the right to life in the rule of law. From the above perspective, it can thereby be asserted that environmental issues are also human rights concerns.
The UNHRC has been in the forefront in the promulgation of this relatively new environmental rights consciousness. In 2011, the council initiated an investigation to the link between the two fields. The investigation reported that international law recognizes the right to food, water, to housing and to life, but not to a healthy environment[CITATION OHC \l 1033 ].
However, the report also noted that the environment was directly responsible for enabling these rights. In so doing, it stated that an intrinsic link existed between the fields but that the relationship was merely inferred and not explicitly stated. The investigation came up with three theoretical perspectives to define the relationship. The first approach equates the environment to a necessary precondition for human rights enjoyment. The second approach perceived human rights to be tools that can address environmental concerns. The third approach was the integration of both fields under sustainable development[ CITATION DAN17 \1 1033 ]. In the report the Rio Principle 10 was referenced since it provides a legal instrument for the enforcement of environmental concerns and also includes the public in decisions concerning environmental protection. The council moreover linked human rights to climate change. In reference to this, it asserted that no human being should be denied his means of survival or subsistence. Since climate change has already been regarded as a concern for the entire humanity, the UNHRC is thereby warranted in including environment in its list of priorities. The council noted that current international law cannot prosecute environmental degradation as violation of human rights[ CITATION UNE15 \I 1033 ]. Moreover, litigation in human rights laws is not possible in the sphere of precautionary measures since assessment of risks posed by pollutants is not enough to prosecute. While it can be argued that the current role of the UNHRC in environmental issues is rather more rhetorical than juridical, its stance on the relationship between the two fields is firm. Thereby, legal interpretations of this stance are needed if the environment is to be really protected.
The relationship between environmental conservation and human rights is complex while defining a right such as a right to decent environment. This is because the definition of such an environment calls for a judgment based on value. While the need for such a right is intuitively dire, different individuals or states will invariably come up with different subjective definitions.
Since the decency goes both ways for development and environmental health, policy makers may find it hard to choose between the level of exploitation of natural resources and of protection of nature. They may moreover find it difficult to choose between continued industrial empowerment and improvement of the quality of water and air[ CITATION Ara12 \l 1033 ]. A similar dilemma may emerge in preferring either development of land or forests conservation.
Different governments will thereby make different choices of policies to adopt. However, the adverse effects of depletion of these resources are slowly bringing nation states towards a unified interpretation of the complex relationship. Conventions such as the Rio Convention have promulgated a mindset of viewing the relationship in terms of acknowledging the harmful effects of progress on the rights of people. Examples of harmful effects that have brought nations together are destruction of biodiversity and climate change. This relationship has been redefined in the ideal making development sustainable. This ideal protects the human rights of social and economic development while at the same time protecting nature. It is gradually being implemented around the world by finding ways in which environmental protection can drive social and economic development since they are all human rights.
Conclusion While current international law fails to recognize the right to decent environment as part of the bill of rights, contemporary thought ant theories point to an intrinsic relationship between environment conservation and human rights. This is because for individuals to enjoy their human rights, the environment; which is the enforcer of rights such as food, air and water, must be conserved so as to provide these necessities. However, though the assertion seems intuitive, certain challenges are posed as to how both can be achieved. The UNHRC calls for the development of a law that would make the environment legally bound to the enforcement of human rights so as to increase accountability of states. The complex relationship between the two fields has led to disagreements about how the link can be defined to forge productive policies. However, sustainable development has been found to be a possible solution to their integration.