The human rights principle for sustainable development governance

[Paper presented at the Earth Systems Governance Tokyo Conference ‘Complex Architectures, Multiple Agents’, 28 – 31 January 2013, United Nations University Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan]


Sustainable development is impossible without a continuous care for the implementation of human rights as made explicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights-related principles of the Rio and Rio+20 Declarations. However, a full implementation of human rights would not automatically lead to sustainable development. As an exercise in coordinating complex systems of interlinked socio-economic processes in a dynamic of increasing globalisation, fair and effective sustainable development governance will always be troubled by cognitive complexity and moral pluralism. That is: even if we would all agree on the knowledge base of a sustainable development related problem, then opinions could still differ about the acceptability of solutions. The natural and social sciences can inform us about the character of options, they cannot always clarify the choice to make.

Advancing from this rationale, the paper argues that, added to the fields of human rights concerning a fair socio-economic ‘organisation’ of our society, fair and effective sustainable development governance implies the right for every human ‘to contribute to making sense of what is at stake’. In practice, this social justice based concern for human intellectual capacity building translates as a concern for free and pluralist advanced education, inclusive and transdisciplinary knowledge generation and inclusive, deliberative multi-level decision making.

The paper concludes with the argumentation that a rights-based approach to intellectual capacity building, supporting ‘the right to be responsible’ for every human, is the only way to enable the possibility of global sustainable development governance in a complex and pluralist world.


Read the full paper here.

See the presentation done at the conference here.


The Earth Systems Governance Tokyo Conference:

the human rights principle for sustainable development governance

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