Interplay between human rights and environment highlighted

Wan Lixin
Experts have shared their insights online at the 2022 International Symposium on Environment, Development and Human Rights.
Wan Lixin

Experts from home and abroad shared their insights into a wide range of topics concerning the interplay between human rights and the environment at the 2022 International Symposium on Environment, Development and Human Rights.

As the China side event for the 51st Session of UN Human Rights Council, the online symposium on September 23 was organized by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, and sponsored by the Human Rights Center of Fudan University (National Human Rights Education and Training Base) and Center for Environmental Resources and Energy Law of Fudan University.

Over 10 scholars and experts from Norway, India, Singapore, Japan as well as China participated in the symposium.

Addressing the conference, Sun Xiaoxia, Director of Human Rights Center of Fudan University, said that since ancient times there have been much philosophical reflections in China on the relationship between human beings and nature. Among which is the central Confucian and Taoist idea of tianren heyi, or harmony between nature and human beings.

Sun observed: "This is an all-encompassing and penetrating notion, traces of which are still expressed in the outlooks, attitudes and customs of Chinese today."

Nevertheless, Sun said these concepts belong to ancient philosophers, and are quite distinct from evidence-based and digitally defined scientific inquiry and modern definition of human rights.

Since the 1970s, as the human-environment relationship received growing attention in China, the environmental interests of human beings are increasingly perceived as part of human rights in general.

"If you conduct an inspection in China today, you will find that in tackling the tensions between economic growth and the protection of environmental human rights, environmental legislation has played a major role in balancing different interests," Sun concluded.

In May last year, 160 representatives from 27 countries participated in The World Judicial Conference on Environment in Kunming, Yunnan Province. During this conference China came up with a new concept: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth.

The conference in Kunming stated the need to continue to deepen international cooperation and exchanges in environmental justice, coordinate efforts in the united fight against the global environmental crises, and in the promotion of Green development.

In his speech on "China's approach to promoting and protecting environmental human rights," Tang Xianxing, Deputy Director of Human Rights Center of Fudan University, said that in the past decade, China's stepped-up effort in environmental governance and building ecological civilization have to a significant degree promoted the development of "environmental human rights" in China.

"At a stage when Chinese constitution and laws have yet to provide specifically for relevant issues, through effective public policy and governance actions, China has effectively promoted and safeguarded Chinese citizens' environmental human rights, and herein arises the need for accounting for this," Tang said.

To explain this, Tang adduced a NRC model, which takes into account national obligations, rights standards, and collaborative governance.

In her speech on "Climate Change and Human Rights," Anna Maria Charlotta Lundberg, professor from the University of Oslo, Norway, cited a Norwegian supreme court case, the Fosen Wind Case, to demonstrate the tensions between environmental protection and human rights.

In this case the need to build wind farms stands against the rights of the Sami people, a minority, to engage in reindeer husbandry as a form of protected cultural practice.

She said that "in addressing climate change issues, there is the need to honor our obligations to human rights, in this case the rights of the indigenous people and local communities."

Amita Singh, professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, in elaborating on "How Much Land Does A Man Need? Fixing Greed to Save Planet Earth," showed how greed, by producing greenhouse gases, led to melting glaciers, flooding, disasters, and ecological refugees, seriously compromising local people's rights to education, decent living, food, or existence.

The rising sea level, by forcing an increasing number of people to move inland, made it hard for some cities to cope with the flood of migrants.

She also cited the effects of soil degradation, brought on by, among others, the seeping of toxic elements, polluting groundwater, posing risks to the life of future generations.

The 51st regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC51) is held in Geneva from September 12 to October 7 this year. It addresses significant topics concerning environment and human rights, with the sub-topics on human rights and toxic substances, indigenous rights and the environment, the right to work, and climate change, among other issues.

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