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Environmental Degradation vis-à-vis Collective Responsibility of Nations

Environment degradation is bare terms signifies depletion and deterioration of environmental assets like air, water, soil and etc.[2] 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.[3]

Further, climate 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.[4]

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.

The Paris 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.[5] 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.[6] The corner-stone Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration[7] 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.[8] 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 live.[9]

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.[10]

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 lifestyle.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] Some other implications of increasing temperature globally would result in excess heat-related diseases i.e. cardiovascular, exhaustion, heatstroke, kidney diseases, and respiratory problems.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] But, after the withdrawal of United States of America which is the second largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases the Paris deal stood jeopardized.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

Therefore, with these developments unfolding the State has started to apply all sought of doctrines to protect the environment i.e. Polluters Pay Principle[22], Precautionary Pay Principle[23] 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 Courts.”

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,[24] and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.[25] 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. [26]

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 natural heritage.”

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.[27]

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 in 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)[28], 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 environment.”

In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991)[29], 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.”

In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (2004)[30], 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.[31] 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 Change.

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.[32] 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.[33] 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.

  1. *
  2. Rajiv Chopra, Environment Degradation in India, International Journal of Applied Environmental Sciences, Volume 6, No. 6 (2016).
  3. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Impact, Vulnerabilities and Adaptation in Developing Countries , (Jun.02, 2018, 7:31 PM)
  4. Effects of Climate Change, (Jun.02, 2018, 3:56 PM)
  5. Lorenz Moosmann, Director General of Internal Policies, Austria, New Challenges in view of the COP 23Chimate Change Conference, (Jun.04, 2018, 2:31 PM)
  6. Ashish Kothari & Anuprita Patel, Environment and Human Rights, NHRC, (last updated Nov. 19, 2017).
  7. Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations. In this respect, policies promoting or perpetuating apartheid, racial segregation, discrimination, colonial and other forms of oppression and foreign domination stand condemned and must be eliminated, at Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.
  8. Normawati Binti Hashim, Constitutional Recognition of Right to Health Environment: The way forward,105 PROCEDIA - SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES 205(2013).
  9. John H. Knox, Human Rights and Environmental Protection, 24 W.I.L.J. 519(2015).
  10. Human Rights and Environment –Right to a clean environment , E-DISCIPLINAS, (Jun.04, 2018, 4:46 PM) (last updated Nov. 19, 2017).
  11. Principle 10, Rio Declaration, CEPAL, (last updated Nov. 19, 2017).
  12. National Aeronautics and Space Organization, Earth Observatory, (Jun.04, 2018, 3:31 PM)
  13. United States, Environment Protection Agency, Environment and Energy Study Institute (E.P.A.) , (Jun.07, 2018, 6:31 PM)
  14. Ibid.
  15. World Wide Fund, The Effects of Climate Change, (Jun.06, 2018, 6:17 PM)
  16. Ibid.
  17. Climate Change Indicators in the United States: Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions, (Jun.07, 2018, 4:39 PM)
  18. Climate Focus, Paris Agreement Summary, (Jun.07, 2018, 6:31 PM)
  19. Supra note 4.
  20. Shreeshan Venkatesh, Union Budget 2018: Climate Action funds lying unused, (Jun.07, 2018, 6:31 PM),
  21. World Economic Forum, The Print, published on Monday 11th Jun.,2018,
  22. The “polluter's pays” principle' is the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment.
  23. It is a principle in the international environmental law where the polluter pays for damage done to the natural environment. It is also known as the extended polluter responsibility. By foreseeing the responsibility the polluter pays the damage.
  24. Rural Litigation Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others, 1985 AIR 652; Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihari, 1991 AIR 420; M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, W.P (Civil) 4677 of 1985.
  25. Shehla Zia and others v. WAPDA, PLD 1994 SC 693.
  26. Human-Rights-UNEP-Compendium, 2016, (Jun.09,2018,3:31 PM),
  27. Wildlife First and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors 54 (1994) DLT 286.
  28. Rural Litigation Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others, 1985 AIR 652.
  29. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihari, 1991 AIR 420.
  30. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India,W.P (Civil) 4677 of 1985.
  31. J.Borrows, The Indigenous Constitution, University of Toronto Press, 2010.
  32. UN Human Rights Council, Resolution on Human Rights and the Environment, A/HRC/19/L.8/Rev.1, 20 March 2012.
  33. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Impact, vulnerabilities, and adaptation in Developing Countries, (Jun.09,2018,3:31 PM),

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr. Manu Gupta - Student, B.A., LL.B. (H), Amity Law School, Amity University, Noida, UP.

Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: NV30785622646-2-1120

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