Image Source: Wikipedia/Nils Ally
REGION: East Asia and the Pacific, Western Hemisphere

In “From Environmental Rights to Environmental Rule of Law: A Proposal for Better Environmental Outcomes,” Jessica Scott explores the relationship between the strength of a country’s rule of law and its environmental outcomes. The article examines the link between human rights and environmental rights, provides explanations of rule of law in an international context, and explains the relationship between rule of law and environmental protections. Finally, Scott uses rule of law and environmental outcome data to draw conclusions regarding the correlation between the two phenomena. She further makes suggestions to environmental advocates on how they can use the information presented in this work to encourage improvements to country’s environmental rights and protections.

Scott details “the growing recognition of the close link between human rights and the environment that has developed over the past several decades. Specifically, Scott focuses on the fact that articulations of environmental rights most commonly rely on human rights concepts like dignity, equality, and liberty. Scott highlights that along with an increased recognition of the interdependence between human and environmental rights has come a new focus on the use of environmental human rights to protect vulnerable populations. The recent shift in attention received by environmental human rights in the international community has encouraged advocates to call for more pronounced international protections. Foundational documents like the 1972 Stockholm Declaration to more recent documents like the Plan of Action from the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development reflect the shift in attention over time. Still, despite this increased recognition, no hard law has developed on the human right to a clean environment.

The article presents two case studies—Chile and China—to help illustrate the point that a country’s environmental laws alone are not enough, absent strong rule of law, to produce positive outcomes. The Chile case study illustrates that despite strong Chilean environmental protections, weak rule of law and judicial corruption make it unlikely that such protections will be enforced. Similarly, in the China case study, China’s weak rule of law prohibits constitutional environmental protections from having intended impacts on the health of Chinese citizens. Scott notes that although important, constitutional environmental rights are not “silver bullets” to the improvement of environmental law and outcomes, and that rule of law must play a vital role.

Scott examines comparative data on rule of law and environmental outcomes to assess whether there is a strong relationship between the two. Scott stops short of establishing causation, noting factors that complicate causal analysis. Using rankings data of 98 countries from the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index (RLI) and The Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI), Scott measures the correlation between rule of law and environmental performance. She concludes that there is a strong correlation between the two, with some outliers. In trying to explain the strong correlation, Scott points out that rights are meaningless without enforcement, and rule of law makes enforcement possible. When a strong rule of law supports environmental protections in the law, the public can get the most out of the environmental laws that exist in a particular context. The article also briefly highlights the impact of a country’s GDP on environmental outcomes, noting that more research is needed to determine causal relationships among GDP, rule of law, and environmental outcomes.

Finally, Scott urges environmental advocates to focus greater attention on strengthening rule of law in their efforts of achieving superior environmental outcomes. It is through building the foundation of a strong rule of law that Scott believes environmental human rights will have the greatest impact on the people they are intended to protect.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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