Environmental justice and human rights in Asia

BW building wasteland


As the forces of economic modernisation and regional integration work to transform Asia’s geopolitical landscape, the region is now faced with an array of exigent ecological and social challenges. Rapid growth has clearly come at a price, as Asia’s major rivers are dammed for hydropower, forests felled to supply a pervasive illegal timber trade, and indigenous communities displaced to make way for new development schemes.

Indeed, in many industrialising parts of East Asia, land- and water-grabbing practices are becoming a more ubiquitous occurrence. Yet, not only do the region’s governments often turn a blind eye to such practices, in certain cases they may even prove to be complicit to the problem. This is true of the controversial Boeung Kak Lake development project in Cambodia, which has been marked by a blatant lack of procedural justice and respect for community rights. In China, the uneven enforcement of laws and regulations has resulted in the unequal distribution of environmental harm—of which the country’s infamous ‘cancer villages’ serve as instructive examples. With human rights being increasingly jeopardised for the purported sake of ‘national development’, the governance poverty seen across developing Asia has steadily given rise to entrenched regimes of environmental injustice.

In exploring the intersection between sustainable development and human rights, this project seeks to investigate the conditions under which environmental justice can be achieved in Asia, and assess the countries and sectors where injustice is most rife. With a strong focus on China, India and Southeast Asia, it looks to distill policy-relevant lessons that can be used to guide local and transnational efforts at strengthening human and ecological security. To this end, the project will engage in a variety of research, outreach and capacity-building activities. These include the creation of a UNSW student-led website on sustainability challenges in the developing world, as well as the organization of workshops and master classes with professional and civil society leaders from within the region. 

This project is led by Dr Pichamon Yeophantong, a Lecturer (Asst Prof) in International Relations and Development in the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences UNSW and Fran Lambrick.



  • Yeophantong P, 2017, 'River activism, policy entrepreneurship and transboundary water disputes in Asia', Water International, vol. 42, pp. 163 - 186, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2017.1279041
  • Yeophantong P, 2016, 'China and Disaster Governance: Assessing the Domestic Sources of a Global Responsibility', Journal of Chinese Political Sciencehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11366-016-9406-2
  • Yeophantong P, 2016, 'China's Dam Diplomacy in the Mekong Region: Three Game Changers', in Blake D; Robins L (ed.), Water Governance Dynamics in the Mekong Region, Strategic Information and Research Development Center Press (for M-POWER), Selangor
  • Yeophantong P, 2016, 'Civil Regulation and Chinese Resource Investment in Vietnam and Myanmar', in Caballero-Anthony M; Barichello R (ed.), Natural Resource Management for Sustainable Growth, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/nts/natural-resource-management-for-sustainable-growth/#.WNHPyXqVERN
  • Yeophantong P, 2016, 'China’s Hydropower Expansion and Influence over Environmental Governance in Mainland Southeast Asia', in Goh E (ed.), Rising China’s Influence in Developing Asia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 174 - 192
  • Yeophantong P; Maurin C, 2016, 'China and the Regulation of Outbound Investment: Towards A ‘Responsible Investment’ Policy Framework', in Bjorkland AK (ed.), The Yearbook on International Investment Law & Policy 2014-2015, Oxford University Press, New York



Photo credit: Cambodia for Sale by Angel Garcia Vicente