The concept finds its roots in the United Nations, and is predicated on the theory that “human rights determine the relationship between individuals and groups with valid claims (rightsholders) and State and non-state actors with correlative obligations (duty-bearers).” (UNICEF, 2004: 92). Its adoption by the United Nations as the framework by which its pursues its interventions is significant, in that it heralds a shift from a needs-based approach, i.e., looking at what people need, to looking at what people have an absolute inalienable right to, by virtue of being human. (Alston, 2003: 7). A rights-based approach imposes a duty on the State to uphold this right as a function of the social contract, whereas a “need-based” approach may not necessarily so. Central therefore to the RBA is the re-emergence of the state and governance as a central element in development (Baxi, 2005: 2), through a focus on the interrelation between the state and its citizens in terms of duties and rights. (Boesen and Martin, 2007: 9).
We now proceed to looking at the carbon tax issue, a controversial issue that has been the subject of much controversy and debate in Australia. The carbon tax is basically a levy that the government intends to impose on corporations that release carbon into the atmosphere. According to Nielson (2010: 7), “in theory, environmentally related taxes should be set at a level equal to the external environmental cost of a particular product or activity.” Essentially, this means that the cost to the environment is computed into the cost of manufacturing a commodity so as to create disincentives for “dirty companies” using environmentally-unsustainable technologies....
The RBA presupposes a social contract between the rights claim-holders and the state that has a duty to uphold these rights. Amartya Sen (1999) is a key thinker in this philosophy of “entitlements” – human beings have inalienable rights to demand from the state all that he or she needs to be enhance his or her capabilities. In a sense, the RBA places a special bias on the poor and the marginalized, upon the recognition that it is them whose rights are the most vulnerable. To quote, “The underlying structural, social and political drivers of poverty, vulnerability and inequality have to be addressed in the context of a broad development strategy, in which social protection plays an important part. (van Ginneken, 2011: 3). What does this have to do with carbon taxes? The obligation of the state in this case is the obligation to maintain and promote a clean and healthy environment for its constituents. Study after study have demonstrated that climate change will affect the poor and the ordinary wage-earners the most (see for example, McGuigan, et. al., 2002) and hence, the state has a duty to protect them and ensure the sustainability of the environment and the availability of natural resources for generations to come. The rate of pollution being emitted in the atmosphere has debilitating effects on water sanitation, agriculture, etc. When resources are scarce, the prices of the resources or the commodities made from these resources jack up – and these fluctuations in prices affect the most vulnerable in society. Hence, there is no denying that ordinary people are compromised the most by climate change – ordinary people who have inalienable rights to live healthily and raise their