Environment degradation is bare terms signifies depletion and deterioration of
environmental assets like air, water, soil and etc. Environment includes all
elements of nature which a man is surrounded by. Environmental degradation is a
continuous process which is posing a threat to entire mankind.
The concept of
collective responsibility is one corner stone in law and political philosophy.
The relevance of such concept is essential in environmental law as global
justice to humanity can only be served with the help if all nations agree on
coming together on the same page with the same environmental protection norms.
The main characteristics of climate change are increases in average global
temperature (global warming); changes in cloud cover and precipitation
particularly over land; melting of ice caps and glaciers and reduced snow cover;
and increases in ocean temperatures and ocean acidity – due to seawater
absorbing heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
change is just not confined to global warming and its impact but also
includes longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the
number, duration and intensity of tropical storms as estimated by National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, United States.
The solution which was
foreseen by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was a
collective effort by all nations to try and curb environmental degradation,
which later in 2015 was introduced as Paris Agreement. Climate negotiation which
has always received enormous support of nations across the globe i.e Kyoto
Protocol and Doha Amendment still no conclusive have been taken.
Agreement could be a milestone if all countries ratified it, but instead the
second largest emitter of green house gases the United States intended to
withdraw. Environmental degradation is estimated to rise in the near future
with increasing population and reducing natural resources.
International Recognition To Climate Change And Healthy Environment
It is with this perspective in the mind, it is essential to understand the
evolution which resulted in causing awareness among the public globally in order
to have a healthy environment which was brought through Stockholm Convention in
1972 which has given international recognition to the environment. The
corner-stone Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration on Human Environment,
where it is well stated that man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality
and adequate conditions of life.
This allows the life of dignity and well being
which primarily focuses on protecting and improving the environment for the
present as well as for coming generations. Therefore, this ideal instills the
concept of sustainable development.
It is clearly said that natural resources of the earth include the air, water,
land, flora, and fauna so they must be safeguarded for the benefit of the
society for which planning or management should be done in order to achieve its
objective. In this respect, the Stockholm Conference stated that looking at both
aspects of man's environment which includes natural and manmade it is essential
for human well being and let them enjoy their basic right such as the right to
As a matter of fact, earlier in 1948 UDHR and two International
Covenants on human rights in 1966 were already adopted. Subsequently, OHCHR has
focused on effects of climatic change on human rights. Similarly, Rio
Declaration UNCEP 1992 also provides that human beings are concerned for
sustainable development, entitled to a healthy and productive life. Therefore,
the focus is needed to be made on the protection of the environment.
Principle 10 of Rio Declaration on Environment and Development has encouraged
that every person has right to access information and can participate in
decision-making process. From this, we can understand that public has right to
access justice in matters concerning environmental aspects meant to achieve
their goal of the healthy and sustainable environment in order to have a better
Climate Change And Global Warming
The term Global Warming and Climate Change are often used synonymously, however
the later is wider than the former. Climate Change entails rising Global
temperatures, with all the human activities which deplete the environment. The
Global Warming we are experiencing is man-made as the scientists have
conclusively laid down in several studies.
Climate change represents a
significant threat to the health and well-being of human societies, especially
in vulnerable areas of the developing world where people are ill-equipped to
deal with the side effects of a warmer climate. Some other implications of
increasing temperature globally would result in excess heat-related diseases
i.e. cardiovascular, exhaustion, heatstroke, kidney diseases, and respiratory
Another negative impact on the fresh water supply which is
dependent on oceans, rivers and lakes are also affected by the melting of
glaciers, increasing sea levels etc. Ground water depletion and loss of
quality water is another menace affixed to increasing level of pollution and
contaminated underground water table. Climate Change has extended its horizon
till the Polar Regions as well, where the average temperatures have increase by
almost 5 centigrade over last hundred years.
Need For Collective Responsibility
The term collective responsibility denotes collective efforts which all nations
have to undertake in order to protect environment degradation. Each country
either knowingly or unknowingly emits greenhouse gases which lead to aggregative
global warming condition. The Paris agreement was premised on Collective
responsibility of the nations where 196 nations came together and resolved to
reduce their emission rate.
Paris agreement could be considered as the greatest
achievement towards achieving the ideal of climate change. But, after the
withdrawal of United States of America which is the second largest emitter of
Greenhouse Gases the Paris deal stood jeopardized.
India's Response To Climate Change
India like few other nations has a dedicated Ministry for Climate Change, which
ensures healthy environmental standards for its citizens. However, the
allocation of funds remains highly unused. India like other developed countries
has been a breeding ground for environmental pollution with 6 most polluted
cities out of 10 in the world.
Therefore, with these developments unfolding
the State has started to apply all sought of doctrines to protect the
environment i.e. Polluters Pay Principle, Precautionary Pay
Principle and etc.
India's National Green Tribunal
India being the party to many of the Environmental conventions have created
national level legislations and has taken many initiatives to protect the
environment and provides remedy on human rights perspective. India has created a
“green tribunal” to address environmental harms. The National Green Tribunal,
which has been operating since July 2011, was established for effective and
expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and
conservation of forests and other natural resources.
The Tribunal may provide
relief and compensation to victims of pollution and other environmental damage,
for restitution of property damaged, and for restitution of the environment. The
objective of the Tribunal is to provide speedy environmental justice and help
reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts, through its dedicated
jurisdiction in environmental matters.
According to World Wildlife Fund India (WWF India), the Tribunal from its
inception until March 2014 has adjudicated 393 cases, and WWF India has observed
that the Tribunal has “delivered a number of significant judgments on range of
issues from across the country. This Tribunal is therefore an important step in
the access to justice on matters concerning the environment and its mandate is
much wider than earlier environmental Courts and Authorities and other such
In some States, courts have interpreted other constitutional rights to
incorporate environmental protections, such as the Supreme Court of India, which
has interpreted the right to life in the Indian Constitution as applying to
environmental threats, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Whether or not
States have adopted a constitutional right to a healthy environment, they can
and should adopt strong environmental laws.
Rejection of Application to Mine the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, In January 2014,
India's Minister of Environment and Forests (MEF) blocked an application by
Vedanta Resources (Vedanta), a London-based mining company, to clear a forest
area to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills in the eastern Indian state of
Odisha. The Dongria and Kutia tribes inhabit the areas surrounding the Niyamgiri hills
and believe their god lives in the hills.
The events leading up to the MEF
decision, which was informed by the Dongriaand Kutiatribes' rejection of the
proposed mining, serve as a good example of respecting the rights of indigenous
and tribal communities in the environmental decision-making process. 
The MEF denied Vedanta's application based on procedures set out in the Forest
Rights Act of 2006 (FRA), which recognises a broad range of customary forest
rights of tribal peoples and traditional forest dwellers. The FRA lays out
procedures for these communities to claim and register their traditional forests
rights. The FRA empowers a representative tribal or community assembly, called a
Gram Sabha, to assist in determining the nature and extent of tribal or
traditional forest dweller forest rights and to ensure that their rights are
“preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and
In April 2013, the Supreme Court requested the government of Odisha to consult with relevant Gram Sabhas to determine the Dongaria and Kutia tribes'
rights to the proposed Vedanta mining area and whether the proposed mining would
impacts any such rights. Subsequently, in what has been referred to as “India's
first environmental referendum,” Gram Sabhas from 12 villages surrounding the
proposed mining rejected the proposed mining based on concerns that it would
violate their religious and cultural rights.
Jurisprudence Of The Supreme Court Of India Relating To Environmental Protection
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides for the fundamental rights to
protection of life and personal liberty, stating that “no person shall be
deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure
established by law.”
The Indian Supreme Court in a series of decisions has
connected Article 21 with a right to a healthy environment. The Court set up the
ground work for linking a right to a healthy environment to the right to life
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India
(1979), in which it held that any State
action interfering with the rights protected by Article 21 had to be “right,
just and fair.” Since Maneka the Court has been active in protecting the right
to life from environment degradation.
For example, in RLEK v. State of Uttar
Pradesh and Others
(1988), the Court ordered the closing down of several
limestone quarries that were causing environmental degradation. The Court
explained that its order would “undoubtedly cause hardship to [the quarry
owners] but it is a price that has to be paid for protecting and safeguarding
the right of the people to live in healthy environment with minimal disturbance
of ecological balance and without avoidable hazard to them and to their cattle,
homes and agricultural land and undue affectation of air, water and
In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar
(1991), a case dealing with the discharge
of industrial pollution into a river, the Court noted that Article 21 includes
the “enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life.” It
further noted that should such environmental pollution occur, individuals are
entitled to a remedy, including “removing the pollution of water or air which
may be detrimental to the quality of life.”
M.C. Mehta v. Union of India
(2004), a case dealing with pollution caused
by mining operations, the Court explained that regulatory authorities have a
duty to protect the environment from impacting on the right to life and “where
the regulatory authorities, either connive or act negligently by not taking
prompt action to prevent, avoid or control the damage to environment, natural
resources and peoples' life, health and property, the principles of
accountability for restoration and compensation have to be applied.”
Environmental rights and responsibilities have been a cornerstone of indigenous
legal systems for millennia. The right to live in a healthy environment
continues to gain recognition.
Some counties have taken phenomenal steps in addressing the issue of Climate
Change, whereas on the other hand there are some countries including the United
States which do not even recognize the Climate Change. Therefore domestic
impacts are apparent but international denial still subsists. The scale of
Carbon emissions and other detrimental substances is highest by the developed
counties like the United States etc when compared to other developing countries
like India, which contributes only 6% of effluents Globally. In spite of this
fact, countries like United States and its allies deny the occurrence of Climate
This denial not only jeopardizes the future of the planet but also let
loose those influential nations which pollute the environment the most. In
2012, the UN Human Rights Council appointed an independent expert to report on
the universal right to a healthy environment. Further, the relentless work
which United Nations Framework Convention has undertaken in the domain of
Climate Change is commendable.
Only the national laws, by giving effect to the
international obligations through structuring national legislation can aid in
protect this predominant human right. Climate change requires a global framework
for international cooperation. Adaptation action is a vital part of this
framework. Finally, it can be concluded the international efforts are
distressing as no concrete treaty, convention or resolution has seen the light
of the day. Hence, collective responsibility of the nations can be concluded as
the single solution to this setback of Climate Change.
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damage to human health or the environment.
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as the extended polluter responsibility. By foreseeing the responsibility
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Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr. Manu Gupta - Student, B.A., LL.B. (H), Amity Law
School, Amity University, Noida, UP.
Authentication No: NV30785622646-2-1120