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David R. Boyd, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment (UBC Press, W. Wesley Pue general ed., 2012), 443 pages, ISBN 978-0-7748-2160-5.

I. Introduction

David R. Boyd's book entitled, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment, provides a comprehensive overview of nations that have incorporated the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Throughout his research, Boyd analyzes the effectiveness of environmental protection [End Page 1021] provisions in national constitutions and seeks to determine whether constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right to a healthy environment have measurable, positive effects on the environment.1 His wide-ranging compilation and analysis of environmental rights provisions in numerous countries is an important contribution to international human rights literature.

Although Boyd explains that treating the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right is not a new idea,2 his broad research demonstrates that many national constitutions have, in fact, adopted enforceable environmental protection provisions, particularly the right to a healthy environment.3 Boyd's research provides concrete examples of how the constitutional right to a healthy environment, and national legislation guaranteeing that right, have had positive environmental consequences. He predicts that in the future these rights will continue to help combat the effects of global climate change and environmental degradation that permeate national borders to enable the world to achieve the goal of sustainable development.4

II. Part I: "The Emergence and Evolution of a New Human Right"5

A. Environmental Provisions in National Constitutions

Boyd argues that environmental rights have the characteristics of human rights.6 Although a human right has various definitions,7 Boyd defines human rights using three elements:

First, human rights are universal, meaning that they are both widely agreed upon and held by everyone. Universal applicability is subject to the caveat that the precise interpretation or form of these rights can vary significantly according to local social, economic, cultural, political, and environmental conditions. Second, human rights have a moral basis, indicating that these rights exist whether or not a particular nation, government, or legal system recognizes them. Third, the basic intent of rights is to ensure the dignity of all human beings.8

Boyd concludes that the right to a healthy environment meets these characteristics of human rights.9 [End Page 1022]

Boyd identifies how incorporating the right to a healthy environment in national constitutions has had various positive results. For example, he argues that these constitutional provisions have led to more environmental legislation, better enforcement of environmental laws, increased government accountability, and greater participation by concerned citizens, among various other positive outcomes.10 Although Boyd describes the benefits of constitutional provisions that guarantee the right to a healthy environment, he acknowledges the arguments of skeptics. He concedes,

[o]pponents argue that the right is vague, absolute, redundant, undemocratic, neither enforceable nor justiciable, going to open the floodgates to litigation, problematic in that it may divert attention from other more important rights, anthropocentric, a form of cultural imperialism, unduly focused on individuals, likely to be ineffective, capable of generating false hopes.11

Boyd provides a comprehensive analysis of, and rebuttal to, each of the abovementioned criticisms.

Although determining the exact number of nations that incorporate environmental protection provisions in their constitutions is difficult, Boyd attempts to quantify the number of nations that have made efforts to do so. His research suggests that in 1972, no country's constitution had an environmental rights provision, and only a few imposed some environmental duties.12 Between 1971 and 1976, Switzerland, Panama, Greece, Papua New Guinea, India, and Portugal became the first nations to incorporate constitutional provisions relating to environmental protection in their national constitutions.13 Since then, many other nations have followed course. Today, one hundred and forty-seven out of the one hundred and ninety-three United Nations member nations have constitutions that "include explicit references to environmental rights and/or environmental responsibilities."14 Boyd maintains that "[e]very year since the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, at least one nation has written or amended its constitution to include or strengthen...

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