19 Dec 2018 Blogpost Environmental rights and governance

From tax litigation to environmental advocate – a young lawyer shares his journey

Environmental and climate change litigation are now a purpose, a goal, and an objective. It is my passion, wish and desire to help the millions suffering from the adverse effects of climate change.” 

Four years after having started his career in civil, banking and tax litigation, Abuzar discovered environmental and climate change litigation in a colloquium co-organized by UN Environment in Lahore, in Pakistan. The experience inspired him to take on environmental cases. Here he shares his journey from tax lawyer to environmental advocate.

My name is Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi. I am an advocate of the Lahore High Court, I am based in Lahore, Pakistan.

Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi
Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi

A year ago, I had no idea what environmental and climate change litigation were about. But in February 2018, one of my friends persuaded me to attend the Asia-Pacific judicial colloquium on climate change: using constitutions to advance environmental rights and achieve climate justice in Lahore. Up until that point I’d always thought of climate change and environmental laws as rather boring and financially unrewarding. The colloquium radically altered my view.

I met famous justices, and judges and lawyers from Pakistan like Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Jawad Hassan, and Doctor Pervez Hassan as well as lawyers and academics from all over the world.

I was astonished to learn that the right to a healthy environment is part of the fundamental right to life guaranteed by article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan. I also began to understand that environmental justice and inter-generational equity will only be possible if lawyers and judges are sensitized to such issues. The stories of several litigators who are helping and protecting the fundamental rights of millions of people, especially the vulnerable, inspired me a lot. I realized that, as a lawyer, it is my duty to strive for the welfare of the society and future generations.

Therefore, right after the judicial colloquium, I decided to write on environmental issues and get involved myself in pro-bono litigation related to environment and climate change.

Since then, I have been appointed as a Chairman of the Environment Protection Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association and I organized a conference on environment law at the Lahore High Court that assembled around 400 persons, including judges of the Supreme Court, the Lahore High Court, senior lawyers and academics. I am now frequently invited by television channels to give opinions on issues related to environment and climate change.

Nowadays, I am actively involved in a case related to groundwater extraction before the Lahore High Court. I filed a constitutional petition in the Lahore High Court demanding preservation, protection and conservation of groundwater in Lahore which is depleting at a rapid pace. The petition has been reported all over media, and the High Court is passing landmark orders. Additionally, I am doing research work for pro bono cases related to the ban on plastic bags, the Paris Agreement and the plantation of trees. I intend to file constitutional petitions by January 2019 and am completely committed to this path now.

I am not the only one who has been inspired by the colloquium. In February 2018, during the judicial colloquium, Pakistan’s first ever environmental law bar association was created by a group of young advocates in the Lahore High Court, including myself. The environmental bar association now provides facilities to lawyers involved in environmental and climate change litigation.

Striving and endeavoring for the preservation, protection, and conservation of public trusts (air, water, trees, river and minerals) for the benefit of all people gives me immense satisfaction and pleasure.

The best thing about being an environmental lawyer is the inner satisfaction of the heart. The feeling of having done something for vulnerable people is far better than getting paid a large amount for a commercial case. Although I do not get paid for the work I am doing on environment and climate change, still, it gives me a better feeling than I get when I am paid for any commercial litigation I do.