This chapter presents the case for the proposition that a right to an adequate environment is a genuine human right. The main burden of argument is to defend this proposition against sceptical counterarguments to the effect that the human rights discourse should not be expanded to include environmental rights, since this would overextend it and thereby weaken its normative force. However, the proposition can also be questioned from an environmentalist perspective: here the challenge is to defend the apparent reduction of environmental concern to a concern with human interests in it, and indeed to meet the potentially more damaging criticism that this is even counterproductive to some important aims of environmental concern.
The first section, accordingly, establishes why the right to an adequate environment is something which environmentalists—notwithstanding their reservations—have good reasons by and large to support. I begin with an explanation for the particular formulation of the right I am focusing on, and offer some remarks about the scope and potential applications of the right. I then respond to criticisms that the scope is not only inadequate for, but can even run contrary to, important environmental aims. The main response is that the right is not proposed as a panacea for every environmental problem but that it nonetheless has a significant and distinctive role to play.
Having thus defended in principle the desirability of pursuing environmental protection as a human right, I then turn to consider