Distinguished Professorial Address: Professor Louis Kotze

Monday 3rd November 2014

Presentation Title: Human Rights and the Environment in the Anthropocene


Human rights are considered ethical demands that operate at an elevated juridical level. They have become popular legal constructs that contribute to the traditional instrumentalist and the more esoteric functions of law. While there is often considerable criticism leveled against human rights, as creatures of law and as legal mechanisms possessing unique characteristics, they are also uniquely situated and able to perform a singular mediating role in the human-environment interface. The recent mushrooming of rights to a healthy environment, environmental-related procedural rights and other substantive political and socio-economic rights bearing on environmental interests, is testimony to their increasing popularity. Yet, despite their prevalence in the environmental regulatory domain, the arrival of the Anthropocene is possibly set to require a complete rethink of the way in which we use human rights to mediate the human-environment interface. This is because the Anthropocene presents an urgent call for dramatic regulatory interventions of a kind hitherto unseen. Accepting the continuing prevalence of human rights as part of the environmental regulatory domain, this paper argues that there is every reason to believe that their traditional role, nature, objectives and construction should change because of the Anthropocene. The paper carries this argument by discussing the Anthropocene and its features that might influence conceptions of human rights and the environment as they are currently embedded in the social institutions of environmental law and governance. The discussion then takes stock of human rights in the environmental context by evaluating the way in which they currently mediate the human-environment interface. It concludes with suggestions founding a re-imagination of the relationship between human rights and the environment in the Anthropocene.


Prof. Dr. Louis Kotzé has recently been appointed Research Professor at the Faculty of Law, North-West University, South Africa (Potchefstroom Campus), after having served earlier as Professor of Environmental Law for 5 years at that institution. He is also Visiting Professor of Environmental Law at University of Lincoln, United Kingdom. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of various publications on themes related to South African, regional and global environmental law. His research focuses on environmental constitutionalism, human rights and the environment, and on global environmental governance. He is co-editor of the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment (Edward Elgar) and Assistant Editor of Transnational Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press). Louis is an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellow; the Deputy-director of the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment; and a National Research Foundation-rated researcher.

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