Access to food, water and clean air are inalienable part of Human rights which cannot be realized in the absence of healthy and sustainable environment. This paper explores the connection between environmental degradation and human rights. The object demonstrates inaccessibility to food, pure water and clean air  adversely affect to human lives in Asia and argue it is imperative to acknowledge that while there is global recognition of human rights abuses, there exists a significant lack of awareness pertaining to the crucial role environmental degradation plays in perpetuating such violations. The study finds how and what to extent environmental degradation adversely impact on the human rights of Asian and underlying factors which contribute to environmental degradation and suggests the implementation of a human rights-based environmental protection, wherein both state and corporate shall have the responsibility to protect the environment while upholding human rights through the utilization of environmental impact assessment. Furthermore, it recommends that those individual or entity found to be complicit in the degradation of the environment be held liable for ecocide. Therefore, it draws its conclusion by advocating for the protection of human rights.

Keywords: Environment, Human Right, Degradation, Food, Water, Air, State, Corporate, Responsibility, Ecocide, Conventions, Adjudication.

1.  Introduction

Environmental degradation is the most global challenging issue of the present time which negatively impacts on the health and inhabitants of the planet. The fundamental principles of human rights including right to life, livelihood, food, clean water, and health cannot be realized in the absence of sustainable and healthy environment.  Environmental protection has been developed as human right in the region of Asia under the supervision of the United Nations and through various international conventions and treaties after the ending of World War II. International legal frameworks have recognized both environment and human rights. The present paper establishes the connection between environment and human rights and explores how environmental degradation impacts on right to food, clean water and air. It draws its methodology to solve environmental degradation by suggesting to incorporate environment impact assessment and punishment under ecocide as well as it shows state and corporate responsibility in thereto.

2.Development of Environmental Protection as Human Rights

Environmental rights encompass access to natural resources such as land, shelter, food, water and air are indispensable for the enjoyment of basic human rights. (Kamble, 2017) The first environmental movements were the consequence of the industrial revolution. The increased use of fossil fuels and chemicals, urban expansion, deforestation and increased human consumption led to drastic changes in the environment. Initially, environmental movements focused primarily on wildlife protection and nature conservation which paying little attention to the adverse impact of human settlement on the environment. After the Second World War, environmental movements have become more active new. United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972 played a vital role for the development of environmental protection as a human right. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 also known as Earth Summit, contributed as a significant milestone in the international environmental movement . The Summit brought together the countries for a massive effort to focus on impact of human socio-economic activities on the environment.

 3. Relationship between Environmental Degradation and Human Rights Violation

The environmental degradation and human rights violation are interconnected. Every human beings depend on environment and a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential to enjoy the wide range of human rights. (United Nations, n.d.)  The activities of individuals, governments, and corporations may negatively impact the environment which infringe the human rights. Shanti Star Builders v. Narayan Totame, in this case  the Supreme Court of India held that the right to life is guaranteed by the right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment and a reasonable accommodation. (Shanti Star Builders v. Narayan Totame, 1990). Subhash Kumar v. the State of Bihar, in this case Supreme Court held that the right to life is a fundamental right including right to enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life. (Subhash Kumar v. State Of Bihar And Ors, 1991). In MC Mehta vs UOI, supreme court held that public health and ecology have prority over unemployment and loss of revenue. (M.C. Mehta And Anr v. Union Of India & Ors , 1987) Aforementioned cases proved that human rights and environment are closely related. Human Rights Council passed resolution on “human rights and the environment” in March 2011 and given task to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct analytical study on connection between environment and human rights. The study found exclusive connection between two of them.

 4. Adverse Impact of Environmental Degradation on Human Rights

4.1Adverse Impact on Right to Food:

The right to food is recognized as a fundamental human right in several international instruments including Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)- Article 25 states that all persons have right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) express in article 11 which recognizes the right to standard of living, including adequate food. Room Declaration on World Food Security adopted at the World Food Summit in 1996 declare that all person have right to access safe and nutritious food. Environmental degradation negatively impact on the quality and quantity of food. Increasing CO2 level in atmosphere decrease micronutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin in food item like rice and wheat. This kind of micronutrients are essential for the development of both physical and mental. Environmental degradation causes soil degradation, water pollution, climate change, loss of biodiversity and deforestation which create bad impact on food production.

                                           4.2 Adverse Impact on Right to Water

United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2010 which recognize clean water as a basic human right. Former Vice President of World Bank Ismail Serageldin remarked that the war of 21st century would be fought over water unless proper management system shall be taken. (Connell, 2013) Water scarcity and lack of pure drinking water are global challenging issue right now. Environmental degradation is the major culprit of this issue. It makes the water polluted, reduces water availability, erosion and soil and sedimentation of water and changes of water temperature.  Based on water availability World Resources Institute classified five level of water stress namely extremely high, high, medium-high, low-medium, and low baseline water stress. Total 17 countries are suffering from extremely high baseline water stress most of them are Asian country such as Israel, Lebanon, Qatar, Iran, Libya, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Oman. UN World Water Development Report 2022 stated that Bangladesh ranks 6th in term of annual groundwater extraction. The rate of access to pure drinking water in Bangladesh was 58.51% for 2020. (World Bank, n.d.) Still 41.49% people cannot access clean water. India is the 13th most water stressed nation globally. The main water- related problems are scarcity, salinity, chemical and bacteriological contamination. Water problems impact on agricultural land, fisheries, health, tourism and biodiversity.

                                                  4.3 Adverse Impact on Air

Human beings need clean air to breath and it is fundamental human right. Dr. David R. Boyd a special rapporteur on human rights and environment of OHCHR, found that clean air is human right. Billions of people are breathing dirty, deadly air which constitutes global health, environmental and human rights crisis. Every minute a child and ten adults die prematurely because of inhaled dirty air in lifetime. Ozone layer in atmosphere protect us from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of sun. But ozone layer is now depleting due to environmental degradation like air pollution. The UV radiation damages the crops including soybeans, making plant vulnerable and the skin problem of human beings. Acid rain, increasing global temperature, excessive production of greenhouse gases such as choroflurocarbon and increasing CO2 are the result of air pollution. Therefore air pollution is a human right issue which violate right to life, right to live in a clean, safe and sustainable environment.

                         5. Causes of Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation negatively impacts on food, water and clean air which are recognized as basic human rights. Human rights are being threaten due to environmental degradation. There are two primary reasons for environmental degradation. I)Human Activities II) Environmental Fact. These two causes are illustrated as follows:

                                     5.1 Human Activities Impact on Environment

 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report on climate change which confirmed that it is 95% certain human activities are the main reason for climate change. Human activities are responsible for increasing CO2 almost as much as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are responsible. 40% of  CO2 has increased in atmosphere since 1750 as a result of human activity. (Action, 2013) There are sufficient evidence that human beings are responsible for disruptions and changes to local and global water cycle. Damming rivers for hydroelectricity, using water for farming, deforestation and burning of fossil fuels. The dam shall be used for generating hydroelectric in Ethiopia. Iraq faces also water crisis for the dam constructed by Turkey’s South-Eastern Anatolia Project. (Wu, 2023) Besides, urbanization and industrialization, farming, mining combustion of fossil fuels, stream channel alteration and waste are the reasons for water polluted.

          5.2 Environmental Fact for Environmental Degradation

Internal forcing mechanism where different kinds of elements of earth such as Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Cryosphere, Lithosphere etc interaction between them affect the earth’s outer surface and adverse impact on environment. The balance of environment highly depend on sea water volume, ice volume, ocean currents and salinity. If the ocean’s current change the direction or water level falls or rises, even if the ice melts, the balance of environment drastically disturbed. On the other hand, if there is a slight change in the earth’s orbit, the amount of sunlight on the surface changes drastically and it is the reason for great change in geographical and seasonal light. Over the past centuries, large variations in the isotopes of sunlight and white metals have been observed, causing electrical interference and greatly disrupting wireless communications. This change is solar heat is completely natural. As per plate tectonic theory, movement of the plates below earth surface is geologic phenomenon such as earthquakes. Acid rain with sulphur dioxide (SO2), destruction of ozone layer are also the environmental factors for degrading the environment.

         6. Mechanism to solve Environmental Degradation

It is essential that necessary measures should be taken to solve the environmental degradation as a mechanism of protecting human rights. State and business responsibility are main mechanism to protect environment from the degradation are illustrated as follows:

                                                      6.1 State Responsibility

There are various treaties and conventions relating to environment and human rights separately which impose responsibility on state parties to protect environment as well as human rights. The principles of treaties are binding upon the state parties. (United Nations, 1969) Principles when become customary international law are binding upon states irrespective ratification or signing the treaties . (North Sea Continental Shelf, Germany v Denmark, 1969) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) guarantees in article 3, state parties ensure that their activities do not damage the environment of others and article 8e promote sound and sustainable development of environment. The convention also ensure in article 10 that the parties avoid adverse impact on biological diversity. 196 states are member of the convention. Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, adopted by 196 state parties and many states incorporate it on their Nationally Determined Contribution. The agreement stated that holding the global average temperature below 2 C in above pre industrial levels and limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C in above pre industrial level (United Nations Climate Change, n.d.) Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992)- principle 18 described that, state shall immediately notify other states of any natural disasters or emergencies which produce harmful effects on environment of those states . Principle 19 express that states shall provide prior and timely notification to other states about their activities which have adverse transboundary environmental effect. The last one principle 23 ensure environment and natural resources shall be protected. United Nations incorporated 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 13 urges to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact. And goal 14 said conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. (United Nations, n.d.) 

                                                     6.2 Corporate Responsibility

Corporate has both responsibility to protect the environment as well as human rights. Corporate Environmental Responsibility refers to a company’s duty abstain from damaging natural environments. (Mazurkiewicz) Companies play a fundamental rule in slowing down environment because of their overuse natural resources, produce toxic waste, emit CO2 and contribute to global warming. This type of environmental degradation threats to human rights. Some company take green approach. United Nations established some guiding principles for business liability to protect human rights called United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). (United Nations, n.d.) It is an instrument consisting of 31 principles for transnational corporation and other business enterprises. Principle 11 stated that business enterprises should respect human rights and avoid all the matters which infringing on the human rights and others. Principle 23 stated business corporation comply with all applicable laws and respect internationally recognized human right and treat the risk of causing human rights as a legal as a legal compliance issue. Thus, State and corporate responsibility undergoes to protect environment and human rights.

 7. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to Protect Human Rights

EIA is designed to identify the potential risk of project (e. g, infrastructure development) to environmental and human well-being and identify measures to eliminate or mitigate these risk. (International Institute for Sustainable Development, n.d.) The assessment of impact of the activities on environment including food, water and air, act as a predetermined instrument to protect human rights. A proper EIA before construction of any industrial infrastructure or project shall maintain the balance of the environment and if the balance is maintained, human rights shall be intact. EIA has been conducted before Rampal Power Plant Project in Bangladesh. EIA was first introduced in 1978 with regard various river valley projects all over the country in India. Now it is mandatory over 30 classes of project.

8. Adjudication of Environment and Human Rights Fact at International Court

Environmental issue and Human Rights fact are legalized by various international laws and treaties. As an international legal issue, they shall be prosecuted at international court. In which manner the issues shall be prosecuted given below:

                                                       8.1 Ecocide

Ecocide means unlawful act which causes widespread or long term damage to the environment. Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide under the authority Stop Ecocide Foundation proposed to add ecocide as a new crime to the Room Statute and recognize it as a international criminal act. (Stop Ecocide Foundation, n.d.) As a criminal act, ecocide shall be adjudicated in International Criminal Court (ICC). Those who violate human rights by destroying the environment should be prosecuted at the ICC under ecocide.

                                        8.2 International Court of Justice      

International Court of Justice (ICJ) has jurisdiction to deal the environmental issues. In the case of Costa Rica vs Nicaragua – 2017, ICJ adjudicated international transboundary environmental issue ((Costa Rica v. Nicaragua), 2017) and Argentina vs Uruguay – 2010 , in this case ICJ held that a  state must take sufficient procedure to prevent environmental harm. ((Argentina v. Uruguay, 2010) Therefore, environmental issues are under the jurisdiction of ICJ. Besides, after analyzing article 36(1) and 36(2) of the ICJ statute, if any dispute arises regarding international law or any international legal issue, shall be resolved by ICJ. Human rights and environmental issues are legalized by the international legal framework. Thus, the issues shall be adjudicated under international court.

                                                             9. Conclusion    

Environmental degradation adversely effect on food, air and clean water which are recognized as basic human rights as a result the Asian suffers a lot. Human rights largely depend on environmental balance which determine there are close relationship between two of them. Various international laws, conventions and treaties make environment and human rights are legal issue. Human activities are the main principal for the environmental degradation rather than natural fact. The methodology express state and corporate responsibility to protect environmental degradation as well as conducting environmental impact assessment to protect human rights. Human rights shall be secured by adjudicating the issue before international court under ecocide for breaching of international law.


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Posted by Sazzad Hossain Sourov

Sazzad Hossain Sourov is a law student at Jagannath University, Bangladesh. He is actively engaged in Legal Research and National and International Moot Court Competition about domestic constitution and Public International Law. Besides his academic performance, he has achieved numerous national and international legal competition such as : Best Oral Advocate Award on Intra Department Moot Court Competition -2022, Best Oralist Award on Inter University Moot Court Competition -2023. He participated Prof. N.R Madhava Menon Global Mooting Competition, India -2023 as a first oralist. His research paper was selected at Undergraduate Law Symposium Fall -2022 organised by North South University, Bangladesh. As well as he participated International Lawfied Article Writing Competition regarding International Humanitarian Law. He also achieved academic scholarship from Higher Secondary School.

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