David Boyd on Environmental Rights!
All but 16 of the 193 states in the United Nations recognize the right to a healthy environment, says legal scholar Dr. David Boyd. Among the laggards: Canada and the United States.
“It’s a truly extraordinary development for Canada and the United States to be the global renegades in terms of recognition of this most basic and fundamental human right,” Boyd told the Green Interview in a new, feature-length video conversation. Boyd is the author of The Environmental Rights Revolution, and The Right to a Healthy Environment, both published in 2012.
Constitutions that include environmental rights have transformative effects on the nations that enact them, Boyd says. Not surprisingly, Canada's rank on international comparisons of environmental performance is dismal: 24th out of 25 among the wealthiest OECD nations, and 15th out of 17 in Conference Board of Canada rankings. The Canadian government, for example, has promised to clean up the Great Lakes for decades. Yet progress is painfully slow. Without environmental rights, “there is just no way that Canadians, at this point in history, are able to hold governments accountable for those broken promises,” says Boyd.
By comparison, Argentina, which amended its constitution in 1993 to include the right to a healthy environment, has taken swift action on environmental issues. In 2008 Beatriz Mendoza, a citizen sick because of toluene poisoning, won a lawsuit against the government and 44 corporations. Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled that pollution around Buenos Aires violated citizens’ constitutional right to live in a healthy environment. Since then, Argentina has spent over $1 billion a year on remediation, including water-treatment plants, monitoring stations, 250 new environmental inspectors, and public housing.
“It’s just a truly remarkable story of progress in a very short period of time, all of which can be traced back to the constitutional recognition of Beatriz Mendoza’s right to live in a healthy environment,” says Boyd, who outlines similar successes in nations like India and the Philippines. Bolivia and Ecuador now lead the growing international movement by enshrining not only the human right to a clean environment, but also legal rights for the environment itself. In those countries, ecosystems, mountains, rivers, and all species now have legally enforceable constitutional rights.