Repository logo

US Compliance with International Environmental Human Rights Standards within Domestic Environmental Conflict Resolution

Change log


Sacconaghi Bacon, Gabrielle 


Nation states face the dilemma of balancing sovereignty over their natural resources whilst challenged by the impacts of environmental exploitation and degradation, affecting the lives, health and property of human beings. As a clean and safe environment is a prerequisite to the fulfilment of human rights, international law affirms that states have obligations to protect its citizens. Over the last fifty plus years, environmental human rights have found support within international agreements, conferences, and statements, and are further buoyed by global constitutional embracement.

However, seemingly exempt from this movement is the world’s largest and most advanced democracy: The US Constitution has yet to formally recognise environmental human rights, notwithstanding some disparate clauses within state constitutions. This missing acknowledgement, along with its avoidance of multilateral treaties that potentially interfere with its Fifth Amendment protection of private property rights, suggests the US may not conspicuously heed to international environmental human rights norms, which, as “soft law”, remain unenforceable by international courts and bodies.

Might there be possibility of unexpected convergence of standards nonetheless? A broad assessment of US environmental law offers a remarkably different evolution, equally of semantics and of governance structures, serving as the backdrop for in-depth study of two current domestic environmental challenges: The bulk of this paper is centred on both the “reactive” case of lead-laden drinking water in Flint, Michigan; and Beyond Coal’s “proactive” campaign to close toxic fossil fuel plants across the US. With a lens of citizen enforcement and its impact in promoting the rule of law, symbiotic and critical partnerships arise from the joined forces of philanthropists and foundations with increasingly professional environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (eNGOs), concomitantly emerging alongside National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). Analysis of cases, both individually and thereafter comparatively, emphasizes the roles of substantive and procedural rights as ‘tools’ in the process.

This dissertation seeks to uncover whether the US, without deliberate aspiration to be compliant, is nevertheless consonant with international standards in protecting its citizens against human rights violations within local/national environmental conflicts and their paths to resolution.





Gehring, Markus


environment, human rights, beyond coal, international environmental human rights standards, us environmental conflict resolution


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge