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Sri Lanka recently graduated to an upper middle-income country with a GDP per capita of US$4,102 (2018) and a total population of 21.7 million people.1 Located in South Asia, its recent history is marred by a violent three decades-long ethnic conflict,2 and the Indian Ocean tsunami that affected many parts of the country killing over 35,000 people and displacing over 500,000.3 Political in-fighting, corruption, and nepotism have almost undone its achievements since it gained independence from the British in 1948. From 1983 to 2009, the nation was ravaged by a brutal civil war between its military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), of the ethnic minority Tamils. By the end of the conflict, close to 100,000 people had been killed or disappeared4 and the country had spent over US$200 billion on war costs.5 Its human rights record has had a roller-coaster ride, especially in the context of the armed conflict and its brutal ending.6
In this volume, we examined examples of environmental injustice and unsustainable development from around the world, emphasizing multiple, overlapping forms of subordination and the legal tools used by communities in their struggles to seek remedy and redress. In this concluding chapter, we offer some reflections on moving beyond fragmentation and toward holistic and just solutions. We also provide some clarifications and discuss some of the challenges we encountered as we compiled and edited this volume.
Humanity stands at a critical juncture. It has entered a new geologic era called the “Anthropocene,”1 in which unbridled economic activity threatens irreversible ecological harm. In the name of “development,” human beings have caused massive ecosystem destruction and species extinction, disrupted the planet’s climate, and generated vast amounts of toxic waste – exceeding the assimilative and regenerative capacity of nature.
The prospect of total submergence of small island states due to sea level rise associated with climate change raises several legal issues such as those relating to statehood and nationality, the right to self-determination of the people, and the whole array of rights that would be at jeopardy as a result of states disappearing. Climate change raises profound justice issues – those who contributed most to the problem are not those who will suffer the most, with the poor and the marginalized being disproportionately affected. At the same time, the inhabitants of these countries badly need to “develop.” What does development mean in the context of climate change? What does the social pillar of sustainable development mean for the people of small island states? What is the role of government? What is the responsibility of the international community, especially the major emitters and rich, oil-producing countries to provide climate finance, if not compensation for the damage caused? This chapter seeks to examine some of these questions through a case study of the Maldives. The chapter also sheds light on the role of governance and politics in relation to climate change and sustainable development as its leaders have vacillated between being climate crusaders and promoters of economic development.
Despite the global endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals, environmental justice struggles are growing all over the world. These struggles are not isolated injustices, but symptoms of interlocking forms of oppression that privilege the few while inflicting misery on the many and threatening ecological collapse. This handbook offers critical perspectives on the multi-dimensional, intersectional nature of environmental injustice and the cross-cutting forms of oppression that unite and divide these struggles, including gender, race, poverty, and indigeneity. The work sheds new light on the often-neglected social dimension of sustainability and its relationship to human rights and environmental justice. Using a variety of legal frameworks and case studies from around the world, this volume illustrates the importance of overcoming the fragmentation of these legal frameworks and social movements in order to develop holistic solutions that promote justice and protect the planet's ecosystems at a time of intensifying economic and ecological crisis.
During the last two decades, victims of environmental abuse have resorted to the human rights machinery to seek redress. While none of the global human rights treaties embodies a distinct right to a healthy environment, human rights institutions have used existing rights to articulate environmental rights. Although the link between environmental degradation and human rights is no longer in doubt, it is not clear what standards these institutions use when deciding whether there has been an infringement of environmental rights. This chapter seeks to discuss how two UN treaty bodies – the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – have developed environmental rights by interpreting existing rights creatively. In so doing, the chapter will discuss whether these two committees have applied any standards to ascertain whether the rights protected under the two treaties have been violated. If so, are there any emerging principles about standards that may be useful for other human rights bodies that have to adjudicate environmental rights disputes?