Explore the role of human rights in addressing the global environmental crisis.

Faculty: Science
Subject: Resources, Environment and Sustainability
Year / Level: 5
Theme(s): Climate Science; Climate Justice and Social Science; Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation



One of the fastest changing and most exciting areas of law and policy today lies at the confluence of human rights and environmental protection. Whether it is the right to life, the right to a healthy environment, the rights to water and sanitation, or the rights of nature, the legal landscape is struggling to respond to the global environmental crisis precipitated by the new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene.

Through a critical examination of international, constitutional, legislative, and jurisprudential developments, the course seeks to provide participants with a strong foundation and new insights into this dynamic field. Innovative comparative research techniques made possible through the Internet and online translation tools will also be highlighted.  

A central theme will be evaluating the differences between human rights on paper and their realization in practice. Students will be expected to engage in critical thinking about the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of laws, policies, and institutions intended to protect human rights, while considering the broader ecological, political, social, and economic context.

A major element of the course will be a research project that provides evidence about human rights violations stemming from sacrifice zones in various regions of the world. Sacrifice zones are communities that suffer from catastrophic levels of hazardous pollution or other forms of environmental degradation. This research will contribute to a report that will be officially presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Learning Outcomes

After actively participating in this course, students will be able to:

  1. Articulate the relationship between environmental protection/degradation and human rights;
  2. Think critically about ways in which human rights can be used nationally and internationally to prevent rights violations and alleviate environmental injustices;
  3. Identify the barriers to fulfilling human rights in the context of environmental degradation;
  4. Conduct comparative research on constitutions, laws, policies, and court cases from countries all over the world; and
  5. Participate effectively in advocacy and/or policy-making related to human rights and the environment.


Check SSC to see if the course is currently offered and if you meet pre-requisites etc.



Read a copy of the course syllabus to see reading lists, assignments, grading, and more.



David Boyd

"Human rights are a powerful catalyst for more effective and equitable action to address the global environmental crisis."