Human rights pathways to just sustainabilities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Ecosystem disruptions pose a threat to us all, but are most acutely felt by the vulnerable: climate refugees, those experiencing water and food insecurity, or those displaced by pollution and ecosystem degradation. We struggle to find "solutions," but they often pale in comparison to the risks we face. Collaborative approaches to sustainability that strive for balance between humans and nature are necessary but insufficient for addressing destabilizing trends. This paper argues that shifting the focus to destructive social relations and imbalances among humans unveils critical insights into to our destructive relationship with nature. A sociological view of human rights-in particular where they meet sustainability challenges-can sharpen this focus, providing guardrails within which to conceptualize, measure, and address systemic sociopolitical dimensions of sustainability challenges. The relative clarity of human rights (compared to the more amorphous "justice"), their increasing institutionalization in law and policy, and their broad legitimacy provides a structure to give "teeth" to transformational efforts stymied by inertia or unyielding power dynamics. Examples from original research and secondary literature demonstrate the utility of human rights as mechanisms of social transformation, setting boundaries for accountability and conflict resolution and laying the ground for building more just and sustainable futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3255
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2019


  • Conflict
  • Human rights
  • Justice
  • MAPs framework
  • Social pillar
  • Social transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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