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Climate Change Threatens Citizens’ Right to Life: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court's ruling highlights the inseparable link between environmental protection, human rights, and sustainable development.

Saurabh Shukla
Climate Change Threatens Citizens’ Right to Life: Supreme Court (Photo Source: IFJ)
Climate Change Threatens Citizens’ Right to Life: Supreme Court (Photo Source: IFJ)

The Supreme Court of India in a recent ruling, highlighted the significant effects of climate change on the fundamental right to life protected by the Constitution. This ruling not only underscored the urgent need for India to prioritize initiatives promoting clean energy, especially solar power but also expanded the scope of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution to include the "right against adverse effects of climate change" within their ambit.

The judgment was delivered in response to a petition filed by wildlife activist MK Ranjitsinh and others, seeking protection for the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), a critically endangered bird indigenous to Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Court recalled its earlier directive from April 2021, which mandated the undergrounding of overhead transmission lines spanning over 80,000 square kilometers in these states. This decision was prompted by concerns raised by the Union government regarding the feasibility of implementing the order.

Central to the Court's reasoning was the recognition that the right to life encompasses a clean and stable environment free from the detrimental impacts of climate change. The judgment articulated how factors such as air pollution, shifting disease patterns, extreme weather events, and disruptions in food supplies directly infringe upon this fundamental right.

Acknowledging the essential role of clean energy in addressing climate challenges, the Court formed an expert committee comprising independent specialists, wildlife board members, power industry representatives, and government officials. This committee is tasked with devising strategies to reconcile the conservation of the GIB with India's sustainable development objectives, with its initial findings due by July 31.

The Court also highlighted the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities, particularly indigenous groups reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. It emphasized that environmental degradation exacerbates inequalities, violating both the right to life and the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.

India's commitment to renewable energy was underscored, with the government aiming to achieve 500 gigawatts of non-fossil fuel electricity generation capacity by 2030, aligning with its net-zero emissions target by 2070. The country already features the fourth-largest installed capacity of renewables globally, reflecting its efforts to balance environmental conservation with economic development.

The judgment emphasized the imperative of transitioning to renewable energy sources, citing solar power as a crucial solution in the global shift towards sustainability. It stressed that clean energy not only safeguards human rights but also promotes social equity by ensuring universal access to affordable energy, particularly in rural areas.

While recognizing the complex trade-offs between conservation and development, the Court reiterated the importance of protecting endangered species like the GIB while addressing broader environmental challenges. It called for a significant approach that considers the long-term survival of species alongside the imperative of combating climate change.

By prioritizing clean energy initiatives and balancing conservation efforts with economic imperatives, India can chart a path for a more resilient and equitable future in the face of the climate emergency.

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