What would it mean to conceptualize some environmental relationships as bundles of rights, rather than as a good as generally defined by liberalism? Environmental rights are a category of human rights necessarily central to both democracy and global environmental protection and governance (ecological democracy). The world of democratic politics and governance since mid-twentieth century has been transformed by a rights revolution in which recognized rights have come to constitute a ‘global normative order.’ There are several policy spaces in which persuasive environmental rights discourses have been emerging from existing or foreseeable congruences of elite and popular environmental norms, including (1) rights involving access to information and decision-making processes; (2) rights ensuring access to food and water; and (3) rights providing environmental security to all. We analyze these three rights discourses and assess their current and necessary future trajectories. We identify next steps in achieving better understanding and more meaningful establishment of environmental rights and their integration into our thinking about human rights, with attention to how they can be reconciled with the social and cultural diversity of democratic environmental governance in coming turbulent times.

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Environmental rights; human rights; ecological democracy; deliberative democracy; environmental governance