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Landmark Supreme Court verdict on climate change

Landmark Supreme Court verdict on climate change

It is a recognition of the serious threat that climate change poses to the lives and welfare of people.

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Last Updated : 10 April 2024, 21:27 IST
Last Updated : 10 April 2024, 21:27 IST
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In an important ruling, the Supreme Court has expanded the scope of fundamental rights to include “the right to be free from adverse effects of climate change.’’

It is a recognition of the serious threat that climate change poses to the lives and welfare of people. Courts have in the past helped to advance the cause of climate justice and protection of the environment, but this is the first time the apex court has linked environmental and climate-related issues to the fundamental rights of citizens.

The judgement also goes beyond justice in individual cases. The court has interpreted the right to equality under Article 14 and the right to life under Article 21 in such a way as to entitle citizens to climate justice. Since the state has the responsibility to ensure that citizens have full access to enjoyment of their rights, it will have to mandatorily “take effective measures to mitigate climate change.” Anchoring climate justice in the charter of rights is an important advancement of environmental jurisprudence.

The judgement by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud came in a case relating to the conservation of the endangered great Indian bustard. The court has in the past ruled that the right to life is not just the right to exist, but also the right to a dignified life. Rights to shelter, livelihood, education, health, and clean air are all included in it. The latest judgement has amplified it further. The court’s view of rights should push the government towards policies and actions that will make the rights real for citizens. Parliament can now be prodded to enact legislation which will promote climate rights. Citizens can demand from the government that it discharge its responsibility to them. It may also be possible to penalise them for their failure. The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday held that the Swiss government had violated its citizens’ human rights by not doing enough to stop climate change. The Supreme Court’s ruling may be taken as part of a rising trend the world over of courts holding governments accountable on climate action. 

The apex court mentioned India’s international commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and noted that there was not even a single piece of legislation across the country relating to climate change. It also observed that the absence of such legislation did not mean that Indians do not have a “right against adverse effects of climate change.” The absence of legislation is not the only problem. Even where the law and policies exist, governments have been found wanting in taking action. Popular will and pressure can push them into action. 

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