Court on Climate Right and How India Can Enforce It

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Why in News?

  • The recent Supreme Court judgement in M.K. Ranjitsinh and others vs Union of India & others has significantly impacted India's emerging climate change jurisprudence.
  • The Court has introduced the right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change into the Constitution of India, grounded in the rights to life and equality.
  • As a new government considers its imperatives and agenda, Ranjitsinh provides an intriguing opportunity to think through and possibly enact much more systematic governance around climate change.

The Background of the Case

  • The case revolved around whether electricity transmission lines could be constructed through the habitat of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard.
  • The government argued that protecting the bird's habitat hindered the country's renewable energy potential.
  • The Court modified a previous order to prioritise transmission infrastructure, facilitating renewable energy development to combat climate change.
  • However, the judgement's most notable aspect is the introduction of the 'climate right.'

Implications of the Supreme Court’s Recognition of the Climate Right

  • Increased Climate Litigation
    • The explicit recognition of a 'climate right' empowers citizens and civil society organisations to file lawsuits demanding governmental action to protect this right.
    • This could lead to a surge in climate-related cases, prompting the judiciary to interpret and enforce climate responsibilities more robustly.
  • Judicial Precedents
    • As courts hear more climate-related cases, they will establish a body of jurisprudence that could influence future legal interpretations and policymaking.
    • This process will gradually define the scope and content of the 'climate right' and establish legal standards for climate protection.
  • Government Accountability
    • The judiciary may hold the government accountable for failing to mitigate climate change or for policies that exacerbate environmental degradation.
    • This can include scrutinising projects and initiatives that negatively impact the environment or assessing the adequacy of government actions in addressing climate change.
  • Policy Reformation
    • The recognition of the 'climate right' necessitates a comprehensive review and reformation of existing policies to align with the constitutional mandate.
    • This includes sectors such as energy, transport, urban development, and agriculture.
    • Framework for Legislation
    • There may be a push for comprehensive climate legislation that provides a coherent framework for addressing climate change.
    • Such legislation would need to integrate climate considerations across all policy areas and ensure coordinated action at national and sub-national levels.
  • Climate Action Plans
    • Governments at all levels may be required to develop and implement climate action plans that outline specific measures to protect the climate right.
    • These plans should include both mitigation strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation measures to enhance resilience against climate impacts.

Unresolved Questions Post-Judgment, Their Impact on Government Agenda and Comparison of Approaches

  • Overstatement of Clean Energy Agenda
    • The court's judgement emphasises the large-scale clean energy agenda as the primary pathway to mitigating climate change.
    • There is a question if this focus might understate other critical aspects like climate adaptation and local environmental resilience.
  • Ambiguity on Protection of Climate Rights
    • There is ambiguity about how the right against adverse effects of climate change will be protected.
    • The judgement leaves open the method and efficacy of this protection.
  • Impact on Government Agenda
    • One potential pathway forward is through a gradual accumulation of judicial decisions, which might establish a legal precedent over time.
    • However, this approach might result in a fragmented, incomplete framework of protections.
    • New legislation could be a more effective means of realising climate rights. This approach could provide a more comprehensive and cohesive framework.
  • Comparison of Approaches
    • The court-based action involves litigation and judicial orders and while it can lead to protections, it often requires subsequent policy actions and might not provide a unified framework.
    • But a new climate legislation would be more effective and such legislation can provide a clear vision, create necessary institutions, and ensure structured governance.
    • The judgement itself states that there is no ‘umbrella legislation’ in India that relates to climate change.
    • And in so doing, seems to implicitly recognise the merits of an overarching, framework legislation.
    • It can set the vision for engaging with climate change across sectors and regions, create necessary institutions and endow them with powers, and put in place processes for structured and deliberative governance in anticipation of and reaction to climate change.

Suggestions for Formulating Climate Legislation for Indian Needs

  • Customisation of Climate Legislation for India
    • While it is beneficial to learn from other countries, India's climate legislation must be tailored to its unique context rather than simply copying other nations' approaches.
    • Although transitioning to a low-carbon energy future is crucial, it alone is insufficient to enforce a right against adverse climate effects.
  • Setting up of Comprehensive Legislative Goals
    • The legislation should support sustainable cities, buildings, and transport networks and this involves measures such as heat action plans should be sensitive to local contexts.
    • Also, mechanisms should be provided to shift to more climate-resilient crops. Key ecosystems like mangroves, which buffer against extreme weather, need protection.
    • Moreover, consideration of social equity is essential in achieving these tasks.
  • Mainstreaming Climate Change Considerations
    • Climate change considerations should be mainstreamed into India's development processes.
    • A single, comprehensive law covering all areas is not feasible due to the existing legal framework and the complexity of climate change preparation.
  • Learning from International Practices
    • There is scope to learn from international experience both what not to do and what directions to follow.
    • Climate laws in many countries, often following the example of the United Kingdom, focus narrowly on regulating carbon emissions, for example, by setting regular five yearly national carbon budgets and then putting in place mechanisms to meet them.
    • This sort of approach, which has unfortunately become somewhat of a template for countries to follow, is ill-suited to India.
    • Instead, because India is still developing, is highly vulnerable, and yet to build much of its infrastructure, what the country needs is a law that enables progress toward both low-carbon and climate resilient development.
  • The Factor of Federalism
    • There is another dimension essential for a climate law tailored to India: ensuring that the law works effectively within Indian federalism.
    • Many areas relevant to climate action, from urban policy to agriculture and water fall under the authority of sub-national governments — States or local levels, and electricity also is a concurrent subject.
    • An Indian climate law must simultaneously set a framework for coherent national action while decentralising sufficiently to empower States and local governments, and enable them with information and finance to take effective action.

Conclusion

  • The SC's recognition of the right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change as a constitutional right is a landmark decision with far-reaching implications.
  • It sets the stage for transformative changes in legal frameworks, policy development, social engagement, economic strategies, and environmental conservation.

As India navigates this new terrain, it has the opportunity to lead by example in addressing one of the most pressing global challenges of our time. 


Q) How does climate change affect biodiversity?

Climate change affects biodiversity by altering habitats and ecosystems. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can lead to shifts in species distribution, disrupting food chains and ecological balances. Some species may be unable to adapt or migrate, leading to population declines or extinctions. Additionally, climate change can exacerbate other threats to biodiversity, such as habitat destruction and pollution.

Q) What is the primary cause of climate change?

The primary cause of climate change is the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), deforestation, and industrial processes. These activities release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere and leading to global warming. 

Source:The Hindu