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Right Against Climate Change Impacts

2024 APR 10

Mains   > Constitution   >   Indian Constitution   >   Fundamental rights

SYLLABUS:

GS 2 > Constitution   >  Fundamental rights

REFERENCE NEWS:

  • Recently, in a significant ruling, the Supreme Court recognized the right against the adverse effects of climate change as a distinct fundamental right in the Constitution. The apex court stated that the right against the adverse impacts of climate change is intertwined with the right to life (Article 21) and the right to equality (Article 14) embedded in the Indian Constitution.

MORE ON NEWS:

  • The Supreme Court's significant ruling, by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud, came in response to a writ petition by M K Ranjitsinh, aimed at protecting the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB) and the Lesser Florican.
  • The petition called for protective measures like bird diverters, stopping new projects near critical habitats, and modifying existing power lines to protect species. It aimed to revise a 2021 order that limited overhead power lines in GIB habitats, which was contested by the Ministry of Power due to concerns over its effects on the energy sector and renewable energy goals.
  • The Supreme Court modified its 2021 order, allowing for the undergrounding of power lines in specific areas after assessing feasibility based on various factors. 
  • The judgment stressed the importance of balancing conservation with infrastructure and energy demands, while highlighting climate change's wide-ranging effects on human rights. It emphasized the link between environmental protection and human rights, broadening the constitutional interpretation to encompass a "right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change."

THE SC RULING ON THE RIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS:

  • Article 21 - Right to Life:
    • The Supreme Court recognizes the intrinsic link between environmental health and the right to life under Article 21.
    • It is stated that the right to health, a component of the right to life, is adversely affected by various environmental issues such as air pollution, temperature increases, droughts, food shortages due to crop failure, storms, and flooding.
  • Article 14 - Right to Equality:
    • The ruling underscores that the adverse effects of climate change exacerbate inequalities, violating the right to equality.
    • Climate change-induced phenomena like acute food and water shortages disproportionately affect poorer communities more than richer ones, highlighting a breach of the right to equality alongside the right to life.
  • Impact on Human Rights:
    • The judgment brings attention to the broad interconnection between climate change and a range of human rights, including health, indigenous rights, gender equality, and the right to development.
    • A healthy environment, free from the adverse effects of climate change, is declared a "fundamental human right."
    • Violations of this right have wide-reaching implications across numerous domains, including life, health, water, housing, and procedural rights like access to information, expression, and participation. The court notes the disproportionate impact of unequal energy access on women and girls, attributed to traditional gender roles and responsibilities, such as domestic chores and unpaid care work.
  • Role of Solar Power:
    • The Supreme Court emphasizes the crucial role of solar power in combating the adverse effects of climate change, suggesting it as a significant solution to arrest environmental degradation and ensure the realization of human rights linked to environmental health.

KEY SUPREME COURT JUDGMENTS ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND THE RIGHT TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT:

 

  • MC Mehta vs. Kamal Nath (2000): 
    • The Supreme Court ruled that disrupting essential environmental elements such as air, water, and soil, crucial for life, breaches the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. It affirmed the right to a clean and healthy environment as integral to the right to life.
  • Virender Gaur vs. State of Haryana (1995):
    • Acknowledged the state's duty to maintain a hygienic environment as part of the right to life.
  • Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board vs. C Kenchappa (2006):
    • The Supreme Court took note of the adverse effects of rising sea levels and rising global temperatures, highlighting the impact of climate change on the environment.
  • Bombay Dyeing & Mfg. Co. Ltd. vs. Bombay Environmental Action Group (2006):
    • Recognised that climate change posed a “major threat” to the environment, underscoring the significant environmental challenges posed by global warming and related phenomena.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SC RULING ON THE RIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS:

  • Embedding Environmental Rights: 
    • By linking the adverse impacts of climate change with the right to life (Article 21) and the right to equality (Article 14), the Court has constitutionally embedded environmental rights. This broadens the scope of fundamental rights, recognizing a safe, clean, and healthy environment as essential to human existence and dignity.
  • Protecting Vulnerable Communities: 
    • The decision recognizes that climate change disproportionately affects marginalized and vulnerable populations. By linking climate action to the right to equality, the Court emphasizes the need for inclusive and equitable climate solutions.
    • For instance, compared to others, forest dwellers, tribal, and indigenous peoples are at a higher risk of losing their homes and cultural heritage due to the impacts of climate change.
  • Legal Precedent: 
    • This ruling sets a legal precedent, providing a robust framework for future litigation related to environmental protection and climate change mitigation. It could lead to more stringent environmental regulations and policies.
  • Climate Change Verdict and Global Resonance:
    • The Supreme Court’s ruling on climate change rights aligns with international standards on human rights and environmental justice, echoing key global initiatives like the Paris Agreement and emphasizing the human right to a healthy environment as supported by UN committees and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • India's climate vulnerabilities:
    • The frequent occurrence of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, notably the recent catastrophe in Uttarakhand, persistent droughts in Maharashtra and Telangana, and sea-level threats to Chennai highlight India's climate vulnerabilities. These examples emphasize the importance of the Supreme Court's ruling, underlining the need for prompt environmental protection and human rights actions.
  • Guidance for Lawmakers: 
    • The ruling acts as a directive for lawmakers to consider the environmental and climate impact of policies, urging them to integrate climate action into legal and developmental frameworks.
  • Strengthening Environmental Legislation: 
    • It highlights the need for comprehensive climate legislation in India, potentially catalyzing the development of laws and policies focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • Balancing Development and Conservation: 
    • The verdict acknowledges the need to balance ecological conservation with the country's clean energy ambitions, emphasizing that climate goals should not impede conservation efforts and vice versa.
  • Promoting Clean Energy: 
    • The Supreme Court underscored solar power's critical role in addressing climate change and environmental degradation, emphasizing the need for clean energy solutions that align with conservation efforts. This approach highlights the importance of sustainable energy practices that protect ecological balance.
  • Raising Awareness: 
  • The ruling has the potential to increase public awareness about the importance of environmental protection and the impacts of climate change, fostering greater environmental stewardship among citizens.
  • Encouraging Civic Engagement: 
    • By recognizing environmental protection as a constitutional right, the verdict empowers citizens and communities to demand stronger climate action and accountability from the government and corporations.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Enact Comprehensive Climate Legislation: Introduce comprehensive climate legislation that sets emission reduction targets, promotes sustainable development, and safeguards vulnerable communities, underpinning it with robust monitoring and public participation mechanisms.
  • Strengthen Policy Frameworks: Update and strengthen environmental policies and regulations to integrate climate risk assessments into planning and development, making Environmental Impact Assessments more rigorous with a focus on climate impacts.
  • Accelerate Renewable Energy Transition: Enhance incentives for renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and invest in renewable energy infrastructure to make it widely accessible and affordable.
  • Implement Climate Adaptation Strategies: Develop and implement strategies for climate resilience, focusing on infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, and water conservation, prioritizing protection for the most vulnerable communities.
  • Community Engagement and Empowerment: Raise awareness and involve communities in climate action, empowering marginalized and indigenous groups and recognizing their contributions to environmental sustainability.
  • Foster International Collaboration: Actively participate in international climate discussions, sharing and adopting global best practices, and advocating for equitable climate action and finance distribution.
  • Support Judicial Oversight: The judiciary should oversee the implementation of environmental directives and continue to play a key role in enforcing environmental laws and rights.
  • Explore Innovative Financing: Mobilize funds for climate action through innovative financing mechanisms like green bonds, climate funds, and public-private partnerships, encouraging financial institutions to incorporate climate risk into their decisions.

CONCLUSION:

  • This landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India not only recognizes the right against the adverse effects of climate change but also places a constitutional and international obligation on the state to protect and promote a healthy environment. It represents a significant step in aligning India's legal framework with global efforts to combat climate change, emphasizing the need for sustainable development and the protection of fundamental human rights.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. "The Supreme Court's ruling on the right against climate change impacts is a transformative step that reinforces the intrinsic link between environmental sustainability, human rights, and social justice." Discuss. (10 marks, 150 words)