A CATALOGUE of fundamental rights is included in the Constitution, but there is no article framing the funda-mental right to a clean environment. Maybe it is time our politicians focussed their energies on something positive. But even if they do not, or cannot, there are ways to go about bringing in a change.
With an alarming decline in ecology due to climate change that has become a threat to the next generation, a group of young people sued the federal govern-ment of the United States (Juliana v United States), asserting that the government’s actions that cause climate change violated the young generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust. The suit was taken incuriously in the beginning even by the federal government and its lawyers who have since witnessed the Supreme Court denying largely the government’s motions to delay or dismiss the case.
In a landmark decision, Judge Aiken expressed that the right to climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society. This opinion was ground-breaking in the US since the courts had never recognised the constitutional right to a stable climate.
Thus, regardless of the fact that Pakistan does not have any constitutional provision for the protection of the environment, the US episode serves as a strong precedent for the courts in Pakistan to consider making a move, and shows how crucial it is to take action in this critical regard.
While the US is one of the highest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan does not fall in that category. However, poor gover-nance and mimanagement of natural disasters also play a significant factor in the catastrophic effects that were other- wise preventable through strong early warning and surveillance systems.
Since the Juliana case emphasised upon the US government to acknowledge the threats of climate change and its ineffi-ciency in dealing with it, the case sets an example for the citizens of Pakistan, specifically the resilient youth, to demand their fundamental rights, and question the authorities about the mismanagement of natural calamities since 2010.
It was during the hearing of a relevant case that it was discovered that the officials in charge of irrigation struc-tures were responsible for inefficiency, negligence or corrupt practices identified in departmental inquiries.
People in urban Sindh have a certain level of capacity to cope with the disastrous effects of climate change, but those in the rural Sindh have not been able to build such a resilience as they have been suffering from flash floods and heat waves for many a decade.
For a climate-resilient society, it is critical for youth and everyone else to initiate or join efforts to build a strong and more accountable society.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2023
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