Legalities around Climate Change

October 05, 2022

India is one of the countries vulnerable to climate change. Agriculture and other climate-sensitive industries employ roughly half of India's population. About 12% of India is prone to flooding, while 16% is prone to drought. India is now the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after China and the United States. Between 1990 and 2009, India nearly tripled its annual emissions from less than 600 metric tons to more than 1700 metric tons. Between 2008 and 2035, India's annual carbon dioxide emissions are expected to nearly double.

In 2007, India's net greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change, and forestry were 1727.71 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. While the energy sector accounted for 8% of net carbon dioxide emissions, the industry, agriculture, and waste sectors accounted for 22%, 17%, and 3% of net carbon dioxide emissions, respectively. As a result, climate change and energy are now a global focus of local, state, and national attention. Though India previously stated that it is not responsible for past greenhouse gas emissions because it is a developing country with historically low per capita emission rates, India has now emerged as a key player in international negotiations and has begun implementing a diverse portfolio of policies, both nationally and within individual states, to improve energy efficiency, develop clean energy sources, and prepare for the effects of climate change

The Indian Constitution is among the few in the world that includes environmental provisions. The chapters on Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties express the national commitment to protect and improve the environment. Three constitutional provisions have a direct impact on environmental issues.
● First and foremost, Article 21 states: "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, A.I.R 1991 SC 420, and Virendra Gaur v. State of Haryana, (1995) 2 SCC 577, the Supreme Court recognized several liberties that are implied by Article 21, including the right to a healthy environment. The State High courts have followed the Supreme Court's lead, and virtually all now recognize an environmental dimension to Article 21.
● Second, Article 48A requires that "the State shall endeavourto protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country."
● Third, Article 51A establishes that "it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures."
Over the last three decades, Indian environmental law has evolved significantly. The majority of the principles that govern environmental law in India today have been accumulated over the last three decades. A significant portion of the essence of existing environmental law has evolved as a result of careful judicial reasoning in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. The Supreme Court has established a new pattern of "judge-driven implementation" of environmental administration in India during the adjudication process on environmental matters. The court has played a critical role in interpreting those laws, successfully isolating specific environmental law principles based on the interpretation of Indian statutes and the Constitution, combined with a liberal approach to ensure social justice and human rights protection. So, when analyzing the evolution of Indian environmental law, one must keep the concept of judicial lawmaking in mind.

The Supreme Court's orders and directions cover a wide range of topics, including air, water, solid waste, and hazardous waste. The topics covered are numerous, including vehicular pollution, industrial pollution, forest depletion, illegal tree felling, hazardous waste dumping, river pollution, illegal mining, and so on. The list goes on and on. The Supreme Court has ordered the closure of polluting industries and environmentally harmful aqua-farms, mandated cleaner fuel for vehicles, halted illegal mining, and protected forests and architectural treasures such as the Taj Mahal. Several judgments in which various environmental law principles were judicially recognized are worth mentioning:
● In MC Mehta v. UOI, WP (C) 13029/1985, the Hon'ble Supreme Court decided in its order dated 24-10-2018 that no motor vehicle conforming to the emission standard BS-IV shall be sold or registered in the entire country with effect from 01.04.2020, and that BS-VI compliant vehicles shall be substituted. Certain orders were also issued therein regarding the imposition of a ban on diesel vehicles in order to reduce air pollution.
● The Supreme Court established an indigenous jurisprudence of Absolute Liability in compensating victims of pollution caused by hazardous and inherently dangerous industries in MC Mehta v. UOI, AIR 1987 SC 1086 (Oleum Gas Leak case).
● The Hon'ble Supreme Court ordered the closure of a number of polluting tanneries near Kanpur in M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, AIR 1988 SCR (2) 538, which highlighted the issue of Ganga river pollution caused by hazardous industries located on its banks.
● In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. UOI, AIR 1996 SC 2718, the Supreme Court applied the Precautionary Principle to address pollution of underground water in Tamil Nadu caused by the leather industry. The Hon'ble Court also stated that the precautionary principle and the Polluter Pays Principle are part of the country's environmental law.
● The Delhi High Court upheld the order of closure of certain units manufacturing Urea Formaldehyde Powder in densely populated residential areas in Enkay Plastics Pvt. Ltd. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., 2000(56) DRJ 828, holding that the direction to close down such industries cannot be considered a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution because it is in the larger public interest to prevent any danger to the health and life of the public at large.

It appears critical to change the attitude of policymakers and the general public toward the grave risks and consequences that the world faces as a result of environmental deterioration, climate change, unsustainable development, and poverty; and to make the world understand that the disasters that would otherwise inevitably follow can be avoided by taking affordable steps. Climate change is one of humanity's major challenges. It has the potential to fundamentally alter our reality, lifestyle, and even our very existence. Adequate legal regulations are required to address these issues. It will be impossible to solve humanity's problems without legislative changes and their implementation.