The Implicit Constitutional Right to Live in a
David R. Boyd
The right to a healthy environment has rapidly gained
constitutional protection around the world. In at least
twenty countries, recognition of the right to a healthy
environment first occurred through court decisions
determining that it is implicit in other constitutional
provisions, primarily the right to life. The right is
now recognized explicitly in the constitutions of 90
countries spanning Europe, Asia, Latin America, the
Caribbean and Africa, and is recognized as an implicit
and enforceable constitutional right in at least twelve
additional countries. The decisions of international
courts and tribunals provide further support for con-
cluding that the right to life necessarily includes the
right to a healthy environment.
Many scholars have argued that because clean air, clean
water, fertile soil and functioning ecosystems are inte-
gral to human survival and well-being, they must be
included in the rights to life and health.1The World
Health Organization (WHO) underscores the fact that a
healthy environment ought to be an essential element
of these rights. According to the WHO, approximately
one-quarter of the entire burden of disease globally
(including mortalities, illnesses and injuries) is attrib-
utable, in whole or in part, to environmental risk
factors.2Children are particularly vulnerable to envi-
Since the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, constitutional
recognition of the right to a healthy environment has
spread rapidly around the world.4It has emerged in two
distinctive processes: by legislators explicitly including
it in constitutions, and via courts ruling that it is
implicit in other constitutional provisions. Among the
192 countries belonging to the United Nations, 90 con-
stitutions explicitly recognize the right to a healthy
Europe: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Belarus, Belgium, Bul-
garia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Georgia,
Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montene-
gro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania,
Russia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and
Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Bolivia,
Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, El Salvador, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico,
Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
Asia: Azerbaijan, East Timor, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq,
Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, South Korea,
Thailand, Turkey and Turkmenistan.
Africa: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon,
Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Cote
d’Ivoire, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Democratic Republic),
Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Maldives,
Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome
and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Togo
For example, the Constitution of Norway states:
Art. 110(b) Every person has a right to an environment that
is conducive to health and to natural surroundings whose
productivity and diversity are preserved. Natural resources
should be made use of on the basis of comprehensive long-
term considerations whereby this right will be safeguarded
for future generations as well.6
The constitutional right to a healthy environment was
recognized by courts in at least eight of these 90 coun-
tries prior to explicit language being incorporated into
the constitution, including Argentina, Costa Rica, El
Salvador, Greece, Kenya, Nepal, Peru and Romania.
1D. Weissbrodt et al., International Human Rights Law: An Introduc-
tion (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); E. Dowdeswell, ‘Devel-
opment of International Law’, in E. Sevig et al. (eds), International
Environmental Law (Juridisk & Forlag, 1994).
2A. Prüss-Üstün et al., Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environ-
ments: Towards an Estimate of the Environmental Burden of Disease
(World Health Organization, 2006).
3D.T. Wigle, Child Health and the Environment (Oxford University
4D.R. Boyd, The Environmental Rights Revolution: Constitutions,
Human Rights and the Environment (UBC Press, 2011).
5Ibid., Appendix 2.
6R. Wolfrum and R. Grote (eds), Constitutions of the Countries of the
World (Oceana, 2011).
Review of European Community & International Environmental Law
RECIEL 20 (2) 2011. ISSN 0962 8797
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.