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Restoring Earth’s Right to Good Health


In a groundbreaking ruling, the European Court of Human Rights has found the Government of Switzerland culpable of breaching the rights of a cohort of elderly women belonging to a Swiss civil society group named KlimaSeniorinnen. The court emphasized that the government’s efforts to mitigate emissions were insufficient and had failed to shield women from the repercussions of climate change. This ruling, the first of its kind globally, underscores the transformation of the climate crisis into a human rights dilemma.


GS- 3

  • Conservation
  • Environmental Pollution and Degradation

Mains Question:

Recent judicial pronouncements and observations that attempt to bring the impacts of climate change within the purview of constitutional fundamental rights, pave the way for legal accountability of climate action. Analyse. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Global Climate Report by the World Meteorological Organization:

  • The most recent State of the Global Climate Report by the World Meteorological Organization unveils alarming statistics: in 2023, numerous climate change indicators reached unprecedented levels.
  • The report confirmed 2023 as the hottest year on record since the commencement of global temperature recordings. Additionally, new benchmarks were established for ocean heat, sea level rise, Antarctic Sea ice loss, and glacier retreat.

Climate Change and India:

  • A similar pivotal moment occurred in India just a month prior, with the Supreme Court asserting that individuals possess the right ‘to be free from the adverse impacts of climate change’.
  • This pronouncement cited Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which respectively guarantee equality before the law and the right to life and personal liberty, as the legal foundations.
  • The condition of our planet is under severe strain, directly impacting people’s fundamental right to a healthy existence.
  • Despite being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India has made significant progress in decoupling emissions from economic expansion.
  • It has already met two of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets: reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33% to 35% from the 2005 level and achieving 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources well ahead of the 2030 target year.
  • However, the nation remains highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Over 80% of its population resides in districts prone to climate-induced disasters.
  • Escalating temperatures and natural calamities are evolving into major crises, affecting livelihoods, food security, and exacerbating pre-existing socio-economic disparities.

Analysing the Court’s Observation:

  • In this context, the court’s observation establishes a significant precedent, viewing the repercussions of climate change through a rights-based lens, which impinges on humanity’s entitlement to health, life, liberty, and more.
  • By incorporating the impacts of climate change into the framework of constitutional fundamental rights, it lays the groundwork for legal accountability in climate action.
  • The observation presents several starting points that have the capacity to expedite climate action, both in terms of demand and supply.
  • On the demand side, it suggests adopting a more rights-oriented approach to climate action, while on the supply side, it advocates for integrated collaboration among government, private sector, and civil society.

Implementation of Comprehensive Regulation:

  • One such initial step could involve the implementation of a comprehensive regulation addressing climate change, which would extend and enhance the policy-driven initiatives outlined in India’s National and State Action Plans on Climate Change.
  • This overarching regulation aims to bolster state capabilities by facilitating the allocation of funds, functions, and personnel.
  • A study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science evaluated climate change framework laws in 60 countries.
  • The findings indicated that these laws have been instrumental in establishing strategic guidelines for national policies that surpass mere compliance with targets set by global environmental agreements.
  • This trend is evident in countries across the spectrum, from the Global North, such as Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Finland, and South Korea, to the Global South, including South Africa and the Philippines.
  • The implementation of such laws has led to an expansion in public sector staffing and resources dedicated to climate action.
  • While India already has numerous laws and regulations pertaining to climate change mitigation, a framework law could further fortify climate governance by facilitating the establishment of effective institutional frameworks and processes, thus enabling more ambitious climate initiatives.

SDGs and the Localisation Strategy:

  • India’s approach to localising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serves as a prime example, effectively integrating them into grassroots planning through collaborative processes involving multiple tiers of governance and stakeholders.
  • States and territories have taken ownership by devising their own SDG roadmaps and monitoring mechanisms, fostering a healthy competition that drives innovation and accelerates progress.
  • To ensure successful implementation, local government capacities are bolstered. Moreover, the model encourages broader engagement from businesses, non-governmental organizations, and citizens, resulting in a more streamlined and cooperative effort toward achieving the SDGs.
  • Another avenue involves fostering inter-ministerial and inter-sectoral collaborations. An exemplar of this is the One Health initiative, which brings together 13 ministries and departments spanning health, environment, science, and technology to address disease control, research, and pandemic preparedness.
  • Expanding this approach to involve the private sector in integrating a rights-based approach to climate action into their core operations is essential.
  • For instance, initiatives promoting circular economy principles should incorporate human rights-compliant supply chains, including aspects like reverse logistics, to achieve a truly transformative impact.

Rights-based Discourse:

  • The third avenue entails harnessing the court’s observations to empower citizen groups and civil society organizations in promoting a dialogue centered on environmental, biodiversity, and climate action rights.
  • Within the realm of environmental policy, this dialogue can facilitate consensus-building to address potential conflicts between climate mitigation efforts and other environmental actions.
  • This sentiment is echoed in the Supreme Court’s remarks, which arose in the context of balancing the preservation of the habitat of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard with the development of solar energy parks to meet renewable energy targets.
  • While emphasizing that wildlife conservation cannot come at the expense of citizens’ right to protection from climate change, for which expanding renewable energy capacity is crucial, the Court advocated for increased dialogue to reach a comprehensive solution.
  • Since 2009, April 22 has been observed as International Mother Earth Day. The concept of ‘Mother’ Earth has deep roots in Indian culture and traditions, where nature is viewed as a living entity rather than merely a resource.
  • In 2022, the Madras High Court in Tamil Nadu, while adjudicating a case on the reclassification of forest land, recognized ‘Mother Nature’ as a ‘living being’, granting it the legal status of a person with corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities to ensure its preservation and conservation.


Now, it is imperative to leverage these judicial pronouncements and observations to restore Mother Earth’s right to well-being, thereby safeguarding people’s entitlement to a future free from the adverse impacts of climate change.


May 2024