Restoring Earth’s Right to Good Health

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Why in News?

  • In recent years, courts around the world have been increasingly called upon to address the intersection of climate change and human rights.
  • Two landmark decisions, one by the European Court of Human Rights in Switzerland and another by the Supreme Court of India, have underscored the urgency of recognising climate change as a human rights crisis.
  • These rulings set important precedents for legal accountability and policy action to address the adverse impacts of climate change on individuals and communities.

Legal Recognition of Climate Change Impacts on Human Rights

  • The European Court of Human Rights' decision against the Government of Switzerlandhighlights the failure to protect women senior citizens from the impacts of climate change.
  • The Supreme Court of India's ruling affirms the right to be free from adverse climate impacts under constitutional provisions.
    • It ruled that people have a right ‘to be free from the adverse impacts of climate change,citing Articles 14 (equality before law and the equal protection of laws) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution as the sources.
  • These decisions mark a significant shift towards recognising climate change as a fundamental human rights issue.

Global Climate Crisis: A Threat to Human Rights

  • The global climate crisis poses an existential threat to human rights, affecting individuals and communities across the world.
  • The State of the Global Climate Report released by the World Meteorological Organisation provides compelling evidence of the escalating impacts of climate change.
  • In 2023, numerous climate change indicators reached record levels, confirming it as the hottest year on record.
  • This unprecedented heat was accompanied by other alarming trends, including ocean heat accumulation, sea level rise, Antarctic Sea ice loss, and glacier retreat.
  • These trends signify the profound stress that the planet is under, with far-reaching consequences for human well-being.

India's Climate Action and Vulnerability

  • Highly Vulnerable Despite Significant Progress
    • India, as one of the world's fastest-growing economies, has made significant strides in addressing climate change.
    • India has already achieved two of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets, reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33% to 35% from 2005 level.
    • India has also achieved 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources, well ahead of the target year of 2030.
    • However, despite these efforts, the country remains highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.
  • Population Vulnerability to Climate-Induced Disasters
    • One of the key factors contributing to India's vulnerability is the geographical distribution of its population.
    • More than 80% of India's population resides in districts that are at high risk of climate-induced disasters, including floods, cyclones, droughts, and heatwaves.
    • These extreme weather events not only disrupt livelihoods but also exacerbate existing socio-economic inequalities, disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities, such as smallholder farmers, rural populations, and marginalised groups.
  • Intersection of Climate Change with Socio-economic and Environmental Challenges
    • Moreover, the impacts of climate change intersect with other socio-economic and environmental challenges in India, amplifying their effects.
    • For example, rapid urbanisation and unplanned development exacerbate the vulnerability of urban populations to climate-related disasters, such as flooding and landslides.

Plausible Legal Frameworks for India’s Climate Action

  • Adoption of an Overreaching Regulation
    • One approach to enhancing India's climate governance is the adoption of an overarching regulation specifically focused on climate change.
    • Such a regulation would provide a consolidated and coherent framework for addressing various aspects of climate action, including mitigation, adaptation, finance, and capacity-building.
    • By codifying climate-related objectives, targets, and strategies into law, an overarching regulation can provide legal certainty and stability, guiding long-term planning and investment decisions.
  • Lessons from Global Climate Framework Laws
    • A study by the London School of Economics and Political Science analysed climate change framework laws across 60 countries, highlighting their role in establishing the strategic direction for national climate policies.
    • Countries such as Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Finland, South Korea, South Africa, and the Philippines have enacted comprehensive climate laws that go beyond meeting international commitments and conventions.
    • These laws have facilitated the mobilisation of public sector resources, increased capacity for climate action, and promoted cross-sectoral collaboration.

Some Other Measures to Enhance India’s Climate Governance

  • Holistic Approach to Climate Policies
    • Furthermore, India's climate policies should adopt a holistic approach that integrates climate considerations into broader development planning and decision-making processes.
    • This entails mainstreaming climate adaptation and mitigation measures across sectors, such as agriculture, water resources, energy, transportation, and urban planning, to ensure a coordinated and synergistic response to climate change.
  • Localised Approaches and Inter-sectoral Collaboration
    • Localised approaches to climate action, coupled with inter-sectoral collaboration, are essential for addressing the diverse and context-specific challenges posed by climate change.
    • By engaging stakeholders at the local level and fostering collaboration across sectors, governments can develop targeted and effective strategies to build resilience, reduce vulnerabilities, and promote sustainable development.
  • Integration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
    • Localised approaches to climate action often intersect with broader SDGs, such as poverty alleviation, food security, access to clean water and sanitation, and gender equality.
    • By integrating climate considerations into local-level planning and implementation of the SDGs, governments can promote synergies and co-benefits across sectors, maximise resource efficiency, and enhance the overall resilience and sustainability of communities.
  • Empowering Civil Society
    • Civil society plays a critical role in advocating for climate action, promoting environmental justice, and holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions.
    • Empowering civil society organizations (CSOs) and promoting rights-based dialogue on climate change are essential for promoting inclusive decision-making processes, ensuring transparency, and advancing environmental and social justice.
  • Ensuring Inclusivity and Representation
    • Promoting inclusivity and diversity within civil society is crucial for ensuring that the voices and perspectives of marginalised and vulnerable communities are heard and integrated into climate policies and programs.
    • CSOs should strive to represent the interests of diverse stakeholders, including women, indigenous peoples, youth, persons with disabilities, and other marginalised groups, in climate decision-making processes.
  • Promoting Rights-Based Dialogue
    • A rights-based approach to climate action recognises that climate change disproportionately impacts vulnerable and marginalised communities.
    • It violates their fundamental human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, and livelihoods.
    • By framing climate change as a human rights issue, CSOs can advocate for policies and initiatives that prioritise the needs and interests of affected communities and promote environmental justice.

 Conclusion

  • The convergence of legal decisions, scientific evidence, and policy imperatives underscores the urgent need to address climate change as a human rights crisis.
  • By recognising the interdependence of environmental sustainability and human well-being, nations can chart a path towards climate resilience and justice.
  • Empowering communities, strengthening legal frameworks, and fostering inter-sectoral collaboration are essential steps towards realising a future free from the adverse impacts of climate change.

Q) What are some key factors making India vulnerable to climate change?

India's vulnerability to climate change stems from its vast population density, reliance on agriculture, and exposure to extreme weather events due to its geographical diversity.

Q) How is India addressing its vulnerability to climate change?

India is implementing measures such as renewable energy expansion, afforestation projects, and climate-resilient agricultural practices to mitigate the impacts of climate change and enhance its adaptive capacity. 

Source:The Hindu