The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) constitute a major development policy effort with 2015 as its target year to which 189 countries agreed upon. Apart from social and economic objectives, the MDGs also put forward environmental goals. This is necessary because development and environment are intrinsically linked. This paper seeks to integrate environmental and social perspectives on sustainable poverty reduction in the context of the MDG‐agenda by exploring how a rights‐based approach (RBA) can contribute to the achievement of the MDGs, including both its social and environmental dimensions. The core idea of a RBA to development is to support individuals or groups whose rights have been violated, neglected or ignored, and who have a responsibility to act. Being poor is not solely a matter of shortages and deficiencies, but it is also a problem of powerlessness; not having rights and access to and control of natural, social and economic resources. Concurrently, due to the rise of environmental threats, a distinction needs to be made between human rights and the right to a healthy environment, which is an essential right within the human rights framework. While the former have already found its way into hard law and thus allowing individuals and groups to claim their rights (at least in countries that ratified human rights covenants); the latter is, internationally, often perceived as vague and subject to divergent interpretations. This paper will first present the MDG‐agenda and then the RBA. Next it will link the RBA to the MDGs and suggest, from a rights‐based perspective, possible directions for dealing with some of the limitations of the MDG agenda and its implementation. Lastly it will explore possible ways of how the RBA can contribute to the long‐term MDG/development agenda, with the view to effectively integrating social and environmental governance.