The numerous interconnections between the environment and human rights are well established internationally. It is understood that environmental issues such as pollution, deforestation or the misuse of resources can impact on individuals’ and communities’ enjoyment of fundamental rights, including the right to health, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to self-determination and the right to life itself. These are rights which are guaranteed under international human rights law and in relation to which governments bear certain responsibilities. Further, environmental issues can also impact on governments’ capacity to protect and fulfil the rights of their citizens. In this way human rights and environmental protection can be constructed as being mutually supportive.
In addition to these links between the environment and human rights, human rights principles arguably offer a framework for identifying and addressing environmental injustice. The justice implications of environmental problems are well documented and there are many examples where pollution, deforestation or other degradation disproportionately impact upon poorer neighbourhoods or areas populated by minority groups. On the international level, environmental injustice exists between developed and developing States, as well as between present and future generations who will inherit the environmental problems we are creating today. This paper investigates the role of human rights principles, laws and mechanisms in addressing these instances of environmental injustice and argues that the framework of human rights norms provides an approach to environmental governance which can help to minimise injustice and promote the interests of those groups which are most adversely affected. Further, it suggests that the human rights enforcement mechanisms which exist at international law could be utilised to lend weight to claims for more equitable environmental policies.