ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to adapt climate resiliency and sustainability into their town planning and policies for protecting the constitutional rights to life, dignity and property of the residents.

“It is high time that our urban planners prioritise the climate factor in their development approaches to address the triple planetary crises of climate change, air pollution and loss of biodiversity,” observed Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah in his judgement. The bench consisted of Justice Shah and Justice Aminuddin.

In the face of grave existential threat of climate change, adaptation, climate resilience and sustainability assume the role of a constitutional necessity and of an overarching constitutional obligation, observed the SC ruling which came on an appeal against the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) rejection of a plea on Feb 16, 2021 regarding the non-conforming use of residential properties in G-9/4 sector.

The matter concerned the Feb 13, 1995 decision by the CDA board of directors to commercialise the residential properties situated in front of the Industrial and Trading Centre, G-9/4.

SC says urban development plans need to support adaptation, climate resiliency and sustainability

Later the board realised that Feb 13 decision violated the capital’s master plan and rescinded its decision on Oct 5, 1995. It also issued notices on non-conforming use to the owners of such properties, which they challenged before the IHC.

Upholding the high court order, the SC directed to dispatch the judgement to the CDA chairman for compliance. In urban living, the judgement emphasised, climate change could impair the quality of life of a person, offend his dignity and deprive him of his property or the right to fully enjoy his property.

Incorporating adaptation, climate resilience and sustainability in the policy decisions by the urban development authorities are essential to actualise the fundamental rights of the people, the judgement outlined.

Justice Shah emphasised that the urban development authorities needed to ensure that their urban development plans supported adaptation, climate resiliency and sustainability. The authorities need to consider the climate change angle before proposing a development scheme or changes to the master plan, the judge added.

Any conversion of residential neighbourhoods into commercial zones is likely to lead to adverse environmental consequences on account of increased human and vehicular activity, the ruling said, adding that such an action should not be permitted without proper investigation and remedial measures.

The importance of regulating land use for orderly urban development cannot be understated in the interest of organised growth of cities, according to the ruling.

It is an exercise based on scientific research and experience which recommends in a comprehensive manner from social, economic, environmental, infrastructure capacity, aesthetic and other relevant aspects, the best present and future uses of geographically-specified land areas called zones, Justice Shah observed.

Public welfare would naturally encompass the pressing issues of the time i.e. climate change; environmental degradation; food and health safety; air pollution; water pollution; noise pollution; soil erosion; natural disasters; and desertification and flooding having an appreciable impact on public health, the judgement said.

Any initiative to revise land use regulations must be based on these considerations in order to ensure that urban development standards stay relevant to current issues of the community, it added.

Climate change poses a series of interrelated challenges to the country’s most densely populated cities, it added. Many cities depend on infrastructure, like water and sewage systems, roads, bridges, and power plants, that is ageing and in need of repair or replacement, it said.

Climate change and its impacts threaten the well-being of urban residents, the judgement said, adding that nation’s economy, security, and culture all depend on the resilience of urban infrastructure systems.

Climate changes affect the built, natural, and social infrastructure of cities, from storm drains to urban waterways to the capacity of emergency responders and increases the risk, frequency, and intensity of certain extreme events like intense heat waves, heavy downpours, flooding from intense precipitation and coastal storm surges, and disease incidence related to temperature and precipitation changes.

The vulnerability of urban dwellers multiplies when the effects of climate change interact with pre-existing urban stressors, the judgement said, highlighting that Pakistan falls among the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2022

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