The Human Rights and Environment agendas have been traditionally rather separated in law – even, in the view of some, mutually oppositional. Now a growing body of legal experts are aware of the need for a clear recognition of the intimacy of their relationship – and the search is on for a new way of relating these important concerns.
Anna Grear from the School of Law at the University of the West of England, who is the founder and co-editor of the only existing scholarly journal in the world devoted to the subject, the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment , explains, “It is absolutely vital that we reformulate the relationship between human rights and the environment. This is urgent, and is not simply a matter of re-presenting environmental matters as human rights concerns, despite the vital importance of, for example, all human beings having rights to life’s essentials such as clean drinking water, food and shelter. This agenda has to be far more radical than a human rights-based approach to the environment or environmental problems. We need to re-imagine both human rights law and environmental law and bring them into a new, imaginative and constructive relationship built on alternative values.
At present, a common problem facing both human beings and the environment is the radical failure of state and corporate accountability for catastrophic decisions, destructive actions and the kind of short-termism that seems to be driven by chasing immediate political and economic gain at the expense of the health and wellbeing of millions of human beings, non-human animals and ecosystems.
We simply cannot afford to ignore the challenges facing the future, and as scholars, public intellectuals, we have a moral duty to engage with the complex questions surrounding the process of change and promote new ways of thinking, seeing and acting.”
UWE scholars have inaugurated an important project devoted to just this challenge. A growing number of world-leading academics is joining the UWE-led Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) – a sister-project to the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment. The project has built a virtual research repository with over 600 sources already, as well as a series of new partnerships and relationships across the academic community, which have already led to exciting new research projects and collaborative funding bids. The idea seems to be one whose time is come. The journal has signed up 30 institutional subscribers in its first twelve months, an almost unprecedented success according to the publishers who have been assured that most new journals sign up under half that number. This success is even more marked in a recession, while at the same time the GNHRE is going from strength to strength, with new partnerships on the horizon all the time.
Anna Grear concludes, “UWE is in a position to pioneer this important research agenda. The GNHRE initiative has already attracted a seriously impressive group of the very best international scholars, as well as some great institutional partners, and we are only at the beginning of what these links and relationships can achieve. What we need now is to attract the institutional investment to help us to make the GNHRE project all that it has the potential to be and to capitalise on this fantastic opportunity to really make a difference”.